Kroger reaches tentative deal with striking employees after Sen. Sanders sharply criticizes retailer

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/slexp880
Source: Getty/slexp880

Related tags Kroger strike

A tentative deal has been struck between Kroger and the union representing the more than 8,000 employees in Colorado who walked off their job in early January to protects an offer that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called “insulting” and “unacceptable” in light of the retailers “record-breaking profits” last year.

While the specifics of the new three-year contract has not be disclosed, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 union that represented King Sooper union members touted it ahs containing the most significant wage increase ever secured by the union for local grocery workers. This includes raises of more than $5 per hour for some employees. This is higher than Kroger’s proposal to raise wages up to $4.50 per hour for some employees depending on their position and tenure, but also lower than the minimum $6 per hour increase sought by the union for everyone.

The agreement also includes better healthcare benefits and more stringent safety measures to protect employees who have faced increased risks during the pandemic, including exposure to COVID-19 and a shooting a Boulder location last year.

Full details of the agreement are being withheld until union members outside of the Denver region can vote on the proposed contract later this week. Regardless of these outcomes, the contract will be ratified because the majority of members have voted in favor of it.

Strikes, like this one​, have become more prevalent over the past year with workers at Mondelez International​, Kellogg​ and elsewhere refusing to work unless labor conditions improve. However, the King Sooper strike was particularly acrimonious – underscoring a subtle but steady shift in tone in recent months.

Both sides accused the other of not negotiating in good faith, and a Denver District Judge even got involved after Kroger sought, and was partially granted, a restraining order against striking employees who it alleged were intimidating shoppers and temporary employees, blocking store entrances and destroying property.

The dispute – watched by many as a bellwether – even drew the attention of well-known labor rights supporter and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

In a scathing letter​ sent Jan. 20 to Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen, the Vermont senator chastised the retailer’s previous offer and behavior as “precisely the type of corporate greed that the American people are sick and tired of.”

He criticized Kroger for offering raises as low as 13 cents per hour for some workers when he said McMullen received a $6.4m compensation increase during the pandemic and the company expects profits to exceed $4b last year.

The senator’s letter recalls President Joe Biden’s criticism​ of Kellogg during its recently labor negotiations and highlights an elevation of labor rights in the broader public eye currently.

Kroger’s return to the negotiating table in the face of such criticism and pressure, despite claims that its previous offer was its last, best offer, could be interpreted as good faith and trying to do right by employees, but it also sends a strong message that strikes and public airing of laundry can be effective bargaining tools.

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