On the heels of a new report showing significant financial insecurity, including homelessness, among workers at Kroger grocery stores, more than 8,000 of the chain’s employees in Colorado went on strike Wednesday to demand fair wages and better healthcare benefits.
Amid a recent wave of successful strikes at companies including John Deere and Kellogg’s, the work stoppage is taking place at nearly 80 King Sooper grocery stores, which are owned by the Kroger Company, across the Denver metropolitan area. According to the Colorado Sun, 10 additional stores in Colorado Springs could also go on strike in the coming weeks.
The workers’ union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, rejected the company’s “best and final offer” on Tuesday, saying the $84 billion company did not offer enough for employees to afford basic necessities.
“King Soopers is enjoying record profits while leaving its workers to struggle with low wages,” union president Kim Cordova said in a statement. “Grocery workers ensure that our communities have access to food, but they cannot even afford to feed their own families. This is grossly unfair.”
The union is demanding better health benefits and working conditions, particularly considering that Covid-19 cases are rising and employees have continued working on the front lines of the pandemic for nearly two years.
“The companies were thriving, but our workers didn’t thrive,” Cordova said of the early months of the pandemic at a recent press conference. “Know what our workers got? Covid. Attacked. Beat up. Spit on. Slapped. Overworked. And the company? They did great. They did absolutely great, sitting behind their desk doing their job by Zoom.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) expressed solidarity with the workers on Wednesday, calling out the high salary of Kroger’s CEO, Rodney McMullen.
I stand in solidarity with the 8,400 striking workers at Kroger in Colorado. If Kroger can afford to pay its CEO over $20 million and spend $1 billion on stock buybacks, you know what? It can afford to pay its workers better wages and benefits with safe working conditions.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 12, 2022
The company’s offer came the same day that the research firm Economic Roundtable released a report showing the economic realities facing workers at the chain, who earn an average of $29,655 per year for 30-hour work weeks.
The firm surveyed 10,000 workers in Colorado, California, and Washington and found 70% of respondents work only part time—with many working erratic schedules “so they can’t have a second job even if they want it,” Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College who worked on the report, told the Sun.
Two-thirds of the respondents said they couldn’t afford basic monthly expenses, 39% couldn’t afford groceries, and 14% said they had experienced homelessness in the past year. More than a third said they are currently worried about being evicted.
Assuming this 14% holds across the whole Kroger workforce, that’s around 65,000 people working at the fourth-largest private employer in the US — ranked 17th on the Fortune 500 — who’ve been homeless while keeping the country’s grocery stores running, in a pandemic. https://t.co/9RWLYvduap— Jonah Furman (@JonahFurman) January 11, 2022
As Common Dreams reported in November 2020, Kroger offered hazard pay to workers after the pandemic began—but ended the payment after just two months, despite the chain’s sales going up by 30% in 2020.
“They’ve given huge pay increases to top executives. The CEO makes over $22 million a year,” Dreier told the Sun. “Their cash on hand has gone up since February 2020.”
Meanwhile, adjusted for inflation, wages for the highest-paid grocery workers at King Soopers in Colorado have gone down in the past decade, according to Dreier:
He said his team found that net income rates tripled while sales increased 15.8%, while payroll and benefits shrank as a percentage of sales. The wage analysis of the top-paid King Soopers food clerk in Colorado between 2010 and 2020 showed a 16% increase to $19.16 an hour. Adjusted for inflation though, he said that’s a 3% reduction in pay.
The offer made to the union included an hourly pay raise of $1.50 for full-time checkout workers, giving them just over $21 per hour and $22.61 by 2024.
Those raises would be too little, too late for King Soopers workers, according to Dreier.
“If they are going to be able to pay the rent and pay the groceries and all the other things, they need to make $45,760 a year,” or $22 per hour, he said.