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‘We have people living off their cars’: 8,000 Kroger workers strike over wages

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More than 8,000 workers at nearly 80 Kroger-owned King Soopers grocery stores in Colorado began a three-week strike Wednesday as negotiations for a new union contract stalled.

The controversy is the latest in which workers have accused a company of making big profits during the pandemic while underpaying wages.

Kenny Sanchez, a worker at King Soopers in Broomfield, Colorado, has been attending new meetings for 10 years to negotiate the contract with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7 and Kroger – and said there is a gap between the two sides.

Sanchez said foreign attorneys acting on Kruger’s behalf don’t understand that the cost of living in Colorado is rising and that workers’ wages aren’t keeping pace. “We don’t earn a living wage. We have people living off their cars who are struggling to pay the bills,” Sanchez said. We can’t afford what they pay here and the competition pays more.”

Members of the strike against King Sobers Wednesday in Denver, Colorado. Photo: RJ Sangosti / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post / Denver Post / Getty Images
Union members voted almost unanimously to authorize an unfair labor practice to strike against Kroger as the company’s last, best, and final offer included many perks, such as: which resorts to part-time employment, only offers some workers a $0.13 pay rise.

Pay workers for a $6 hourly wage increase for all employees, while the final proposal only included wage increases of up to $4.50 an hour based on job classification and length of work, with a minimum of $16 an hour, only $0.13 higher than the minimum wage in Denver.

“A raise is great, but if you overpay for another insurance group, there’s no raise, so it’s a roundabout way,” Sanchez added. “Healthcare costs are rising across the country and we need the company to put a little more money into our health insurance to make it affordable for everyone.”

Kim Cordova, president of UFCW Local 7, said the unfair labor practices charges against Krueger included a refusal to provide the information needed to negotiate issues such as safety and the company communicating directly with workers and threatening to evict workers discipline, or dispatch from home. Anything that identifies them as pro-union.

“The strike stems from unfair labor practices, but we are far apart on the negotiating issues,” Cordova said. “The CEO bragged to Wall Street shareholders about Kroger’s good performance during the pandemic while restaurants and businesses were closed. They’ve been successful, they’re making record profits, their investors got about billion-dollar share buybacks, and when they arrive at the table and say ‘no’, we can afford it.”

Kroger also brought in outside workers and hired temporary workers to keep operations going during the strike, while King Soopers was already working with 2,400 fewer staff than usual due to turnover.

Union workers hold signs outside a King Soopers grocery store in Westminster, Colorado, during a strike on Wednesday. Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images
“This is an insult. Our workers are initially paid $16 an hour or less. Then they offered to pay the contractors $18 for the work we were doing and they expected us to train the contractors to do our jobs for less money,” said Carol MacMillan, who worked at King Soopers for seven years worked in Aurora, Colorado.

She explained that during the pandemic, food workers have faced understaffing and long hours, and have were mistreated by employers and customers.

“At the beginning of the pandemic we were heroes and then we kind of fell into oblivion,” she added. “We just want them to realize that without us they can’t run their stores.”

A survey of more than 10,000 Kroger workers in California, Washington, and Colorado released Jan. 11 by the Economic Roundtable found that 14% of Kroger workers were homeless in the past year. Food insecurity among workers surveyed was widespread, with 34% reporting skipping or reducing meals because they could not afford to eat, and 14% of workers relying on Snap for help.

Kroger, the largest US supermarket chain, has seen profits and sales soar during the pandemic. The company reported earnings of $2.6 billion in 2020, and Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen received a 45% pay rise to $20.6 million. The company approved an additional $1 billion of share repurchases in late 2021, following $1 billion of share repurchases during the first three quarters of 2021. 1.3% increase in the first two quarters of 2021.

A Brookings Institution analysis released in December 2021 found that Kroger raised median wages from $15 an hour in January 2020 to $16.25 an hour in October 2021, but at recent inflation rates, the wage increase equates to only 0 $.17 per hour.

In a press release, Kroger-owned King Soopers and City Market President Joe Kelley criticized the strike and filed unfair claims against the union after the union filed complaints of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board.

“It’s time for Kim Cordova to put our partners, their members, first, rather than denying them the opportunity to vote on this unprecedented investment. It is irresponsible and undemocratic to create more upheaval for our partners, their families and Lolloradans to create rather than negotiate a peaceful solution,” Kelly said.

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