Judge orders limits on picket lines as King Soopers strike enters second week
UFCW Local 7 accuses grocery chain of ‘bullying tactics’ as talks over a new contract remain stalled
An unidentified worker on the picket line outside a Denver King Soopers as employees with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 strike over stalled collective bargaining talks on Jan. 12, 2021. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
A Colorado judge on Monday bowed to requests by King Soopers grocery stores to place significant restrictions on the picket lines maintained by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 members, as the union’s strike over pay and working conditions enters its second week.
A temporary restraining order issued by Denver District Court Judge Marie A. Moses partially granted a request filed Tuesday by lawyers for King Soopers, who demanded limits on pickets outside the company’s stores because of what they said was harassment by picketers of customers and non-union employees.
Moses’ ruling orders UFCW Local 7 members and “others acting in concert” with the union to limit picket lines to “10 or fewer pickets on the premises and perimeter of each one of King Soopers’ facilities.” King Soopers had asked for the limit to be set at five picketers.
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“Given the acts and threats of violence that are alleged to have occurred, an injunction is necessary to preserve the rights of customers, employees and vendors at various King Soopers to participate in their employment and their ability to shop for necessities without fear of violence to their physical safety,” Moses wrote.
The court order also prohibits picketers from “shouting at any person within 20 feet of that person,” and requires UFCW Local 7 to instruct its members and representatives to refrain from such conduct.
In a statement on Tuesday, the union accused King Soopers and its parent company, Kroger, of “bullying tactics” and reiterated its calls for the company to offer workers a fair contract. An overwhelming majority of UFCW Local 7 members at Denver-area stores voted to authorize a strike earlier this month after months of stalled negotiations over a new labor agreement. The previous two-year contract between the union and King Soopers expired on Jan. 8, and the union called a strike that began on Jan. 12.
They want to stop our freedom of speech and curtail even more of the workers’ rights. We will not stand for that.
– UFCW Local 7 president Kim Cordova
“They want to stop our freedom of speech and curtail even more of the workers’ rights. We will not stand for that,” Local 7 president Kim Cordova said in a statement. “We remain focused on our fight to give King Soopers/Kroger workers the industry-leading contract that they deserve.”
In its filing seeking a restraining order, King Soopers listed dozens of reports of “unlawful” actions by picketing employees. The reports — few of which have have been publicly documented — cover a wide variety of alleged behavior, ranging from threatening a store manager and blocking the path of delivery trucks and customers entering stores to “yelling at (a customer) with an angry face” and “play(ing) loud music on a Bluetooth speaker.”
“To be extremely clear — we support our associates’ right to picket, we also respect our associates’ right to cross the picket line and work and our customers’ right to cross the line to shop,” King Soopers spokesperson Jessica Trowbridge wrote in an email Tuesday.
Seeking injunctions against picketing activity is a longstanding tactic used by employers in labor disputes, and has seen a revival amid a recent wave of worker strikes across the country. A judge in Iowa last year ordered striking workers at a John Deere factory to limit pickets to four people at a time outside the factory’s gates, and similar rulings have recently been issued against striking hospital maintenance workers in West Virginia and miners in Alabama.
The union called King Soopers’ allegations of threatening behavior “baseless,” and said on Tuesday that it would forge ahead with the strike.
“We reiterate our call for union members to be strong and resolute on the picket lines,” Cordova said. “We will continue to fight on behalf of our members for an improved living wage, a safe workplace and place to shop, healthcare benefits for workers, and the withdrawal of concessionary proposals that undermine the dignity of essential workers.”
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