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The Denver Business Journal reports that members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who work for Safeway in Colorado have agreed to a contract extension to June 15 that gives management and labor more time to resolve their differences. However, unionized employees of Kroger-owned King Soopers have rejected a similar deal, leaving the labor situation there in flux as the current contract extension comes to an end this weekend.

The journal writes, “The biggest issues on the table remain pay levels, health care and pension benefits. King Soopers and Safeway have offered salary freezes for most workers and cuts in pension benefits while tentatively agreeing to a preventative health care package that will pay for things like annual physicals and smoking-cessation programs for the first time.”

Negotiations have been ongoing since April 9 as the two sides – which includes Albertsons on the management side – have been working on a new five-year deal.

According to the Journal, the King Soopers employees rejected the deal accepted by their Safeway brethren because the company “would not remove a clause that would allow the company to lock out workers after giving them 24-hour notice. King Soopers then rejected the union’s proposal for a 10-week contract extension … Despite the extension of the Safeway contract, that chain could still lock workers out with one day’s notice if King Soopers employees go on strike, according to an agreement signed between the two grocers in April.”

Reports say that Albertsons workers, having rejected the last offer made by their employer, are working without a contract since May 9, but operations at the store continue as usual.

The Denver Daily News writes that life got more complicated last week when Colorado Governor Bill Ritter “vetoed legislation that would have extended unemployment insurance benefits to locked-out employees. Also complicating matters for the union is the fact that the grocery chains have been flooded with applications from applicants seeking temporary jobs if a strike becomes reality.”

KC's View:
You have to think that in this economic environment, and plenty of people ready to take available jobs, the big three Denver grocery chains have a much stronger hand in this fight. And labor just has to hope that it doesn’t push the three chains to the point where there is a lockout.