More than eight thousand workers at King Soopers and City Market stores across Colorado are still on strike. It is week two of a strike provoked by what the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7, which represents 17,000 grocery workers in Colorado and Wyoming, alleges are a spate of unfair labor practices (ULPs), ranging from a failure to share data necessary for bargaining, to the company dealing directly with members during bargaining, to a larger issue of the multibillion-dollar corporation violating the union contract by moving to replace protected positions with lower-wage independent contractors, employed through platforms like Instacart.
Kroger, which owns the Colorado stores and is the largest grocery chain in the United States, is still at the bargaining table with the UFCW. The two sides are negotiating a new contract following the expiration of the prior one on January 8, and it is not going well.
“After four continuous days of negotiations, we’ve made little to no progress with Kroger/King Soopers,” said UFCW Local 7 president Kim Cordova in a statement on Monday. “They still refuse to address the concerns and needs of our members, who have raised their voices on the picket lines, in the media, and around the bargaining table to demand a living wage for essential labor.”
As Cordova told Jacobin at the start of the strike, Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market, has hardly been in attendance at the bargaining table — Cordova says he was present for a grand total of nine minutes of bargaining. Instead, the union has faced lawyers and higher-ups unfamiliar with the local conditions of King Soopers workers, exacerbating the difficulties of coming to an agreement. Distance remains on issues of wages, health and safety, and benefits.
Kelley has been strident in his denunciations of the strike, characterizing it as “reckless and self-serving,” an “irresponsible and undemocratic” maneuver. That workers voted nearly unanimously to authorize the strike is no matter for a corporate executive dead set on trying to pit customers against workers. And that’s leaving aside the question of what right a company has to call workers’ actions “self-serving” when it pays them so little that thousands of them are homeless or starving.
King Soopers has now sought and won a temporary restraining order against the local, a tried-and-true, oft-abused employer method for weakening a strike — John Deere and Warrior Met are but two recent employers to obtain injunctions against their own workers when the latter went on strike. Twelve pages of allegations filed by King Soopers include claims that workers have used racial epithets against customers, blocked entrances to stores, and threatened violence against customers and vendors.
In issuing the order on Tuesday, the court wrote that “There exists a danger of real, immediate, and irreparable injury that may be prevented by entry of a temporary restraining order.” The order limits the number of picketers on store premises to ten; King Soopers wanted to limit the number to five. Huffington Post has uploaded the order in full here.
“UFCW Local 7 strongly disagrees with the unfounded allegations by King Soopers,” said Cordova in response to the restraining order:
There are over 8,000 workers, as well as members of the public on our picket lines, and we continue to call on everyone involved not to allow these baseless allegations and bullying tactics to distract us from what is important.
The local continues to encourage shoppers to boycott the struck stores for the duration of the strike.
Cordova added that the company “refuses to bargain. They want to stop our freedom of speech and curtail even more of the workers’ rights. We will not stand for that.”
Some workers at King Soopers and City Market stores are covered under a separate contract and thus remain on the job despite the strike. Workers say that some of the roughly eighty struck stores have been closing early or otherwise reducing operations for lack of workers. Kroger continues recruiting replacement workers to maintain operations, incensing some current employees by offering a starting rate of $18 an hour for scabs, pay that is higher than the $16 wage floor proposed by the company at the bargaining table.