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Weeks after their contract expired, thousands of unionized King Soopers grocery workers in Colorado this week are voting on a new five-year labor deal.
Voting began Monday and runs through Wednesday for workers represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, whose contracts with The Kroger Co.’s Colorado-based King Soopers’ division expired May 9. The chief sticking points of the deal pertain to raises, pension benefits and a two-tier system that offers fewer benefits to newer employees, for which the union wants all workers to receive the same pay and benefits.
On Monday, unionized grocery workers at King Soopers’ division in the Denver area overwhelmingly rejected a five-year offer from the company. Thousands of union members along Colorado's Front Range, which includes Colorado Springs, Longmont and Boulder, were set to vote on a new contract Tuesday while workers in Pueblo will vote Wednesday.
The union argues that supermarkets are doing well now that people eating at home more often vs. dining out in a bid to save money, but a King Soopers spokesperson was quoted as saying the company’s offer is a “a great contract in this economy” in light of rising health care costs and increasing pressure from non-union chains while vowing that the chain will continue to try to reach an agreement with the union.
King Soopers has offered raises of 25 cents an hour for top-level employees in the first three years of the contract and raises of 30 cents an hour for the last two years of the contract, though the union alleges most employees would have wages frozen. Under the proposal, King Soopers would also contribute $35 million more to the pension plan on top of about $65 million that is expected to be put in but the union said pension benefits would drop. The union is also pushing that the early retirement age be pushed back to 55 from 50. Dependents would be eligible for health care after one year, instead of after two to three years under the current contract.
Meanwhile, King Soopers has also accused the union of disrupting business by sending representatives in groups to stores to talk to workers on the sales floor, hand out union fliers and buttons, and talk to customers. The company asked a federal judge to block the union's actions, but a hearing isn't scheduled until Thursday, after voting wraps up. A final tally for all the workers along the Front Range will be made Wednesday. Voting for union members in western Colorado hasn't been scheduled.
UFCW Local 7 represents about 17,000 workers at King Soopers, Safeway and Albertsons. Safeway and Albertsons contracts also expired May 9, but Safeway and its workers have agreed to extend the contract until June 26.