King Soopers announced March 25 it had reached a tentative agreement with the union representing most of its employees, averting Colorado’s first grocery strike in 23 years.

The Denver-based chain, which operates 11 stores and employs nearly 2,000 workers in the Colorado Springs area, negotiated throughout the weekend with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 to reach the pact. Denver-area Local 7 members had rejected the Kroger Co. subsidiary’s previous offer and authorized a strike if the talks had been unsuccessful.

“This is good news for our associates, customers and communities,” King Soopers spokesman Adam Williamson said in an email statement. He was not available for further comment or questions on the agreement, which also covers Local 7 members at City Market stores on the Western Slope but not the chain’s nonunion store in Woodland Park.

Local 7 posted a notice on its Facebook page and a message on its negotiations hotline saying that it has received a “final offer” from the two chains and is scheduled votes across the state this week for its 12,200 members covered by the deal. The union said on the hotline message that the offer includes “solid wage increases for all workers,” retroactive to the Jan. 12 expiration of the previous contract, as well as additional contributions to health insurance and pensions and changes in sick leave.

“This final offer was the result of more than 37 straight hours of bargaining this weekend and would not have been possible without the courage and strength of our members,” Local 7 President Kim Cordova said March 25 in an email statement. “For more than four months, Local 7 members worked incredibly hard to get the best possible contract for more than 12,000 Colorado families. The fact that this offer is significantly better than where we started in December is a tribute to the hard work of every member.”

About three-fourths of the 12,200 Local 7 members who work for the two chains are on part-time schedules. The lowest-paid members earned 20 cents an hour more than Colorado’s minimum wage of $11.10 an hour under the previous contract; those workers will get a 90-cent raise when Colorado’s minimum wage increases Jan. 1 to $12 an hour. Department managers can earn up to $21.78 an hour.

The union also was seeking additional employer contributions to health benefits and pensions as well as increased sick pay benefits, a guarantee of at least 21 hours a week for all union members and paid family leave.

King Soopers and City Market offered wage increases for most workers, although the lowest-paid would have only seen an increase from the minimum-wage increase. Other clerks making less than $12 an hour would have received raises putting them 5 cents higher, compared with the minimum wage, than the current contract; workers making between $14-$16 an hour wouldn’t get a raise. The highest-paid workers would have received a 35-cent-an-hour raise each year of a three-year contract.

The chains also offered to boost pension contributions by 35 cents an hour spread over two years and increase health insurance contributions by enough to keep worker contributions unchanged.

The union also is negotiating with Albertsons, which owns Safeway.

Source: The Gazette