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Why they walked out: King Soopers workers on life on the margins

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Guest commentary: Support the King Soopers strikers

Talk to the men and women who walked the King Soopers picket lines and you’d hear why they were out there, in the cold and freezing rain, striking for a better life.

They started as high school kids looking for some extra cash to pay for that senior trip. Or they heard about the decent wages and upward mobility. Others lost their jobs during the pandemic and desperately needed work.

They stay because they’re scared to lose insurance for their children. Or they don’t want to let down their co-workers they view more as family.

These are the workers of King Soopers. More than 8,000 of them — encompassing 68 stores across metro Denver — walked off the job on Jan. 12, striking for livable wages, better benefits and more security at their stores.

Friday morning, on the 10th day of a walkout that included bitter public posturing and a temporary restraining order, the two sides announced they had reached a tentative agreement to end the labor dispute and bring union workers back into stores.

Details of the agreement were not immediately released, but the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, Kim Cordova, said in a statement that the agreement “addresses the company’s unfair labor practices and ensures that our members will receive the respect, pay and protection they warrant.”

Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market, said in a statement that the deal would “put more money in our associates’ paychecks and secures health care and pension plans.”

Throughout the strike, the union argued that its workers were being left behind as Colorado’s rising cost of living far outpaced wages, while the company said the union was rejecting millions in wage increases.

A recent Economic Roundtable report, titled “Hungry at the Table,” found more than three-quarters of workers at grocery stores owned by Kroger — the parent company that owns King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado — are food insecure, with a rate seven times greater than the national average.

“The data demonstrate that workers’ financial distress, housing insecurity and food insecurity are not resulting from their personal failures but rather, from Kroger’s companywide policies for cutting costs and increasing profits,” the report’s authors noted.

Here are some of King Soopers workers’ stories:

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Brandy Ruiz walks the picket line outside the King Soopers where she works in Denver on Jan. 19, 2022.

“You have have to take action”

Single mother Brandy Ruiz sees her 16-year-old son working diligently at school. He gets good grades, studies hard and has college in his sights.

She wants to be able to pay for that schooling, to reward him for his strong work ethic — but it’s hard.

“I just don’t have the finances,” Ruiz 38, said Wednesday outside the King Soopers on Speer Boulevard in Denver, where she’s worked for six years. “It hurts.”

Ruiz hasn’t gotten a raise from the grocery store chain in four years, she says. Meanwhile, her son, now 6 feet tall, constantly needs new clothes and eats like a full family. She knows he needs braces but she can’t afford them right now.

The 38-year-old has thought about getting a second job to make ends meet. But she believes in commitment, in progressing and growing with a company.

“It feels a bit unfair,” Ruiz said as she tried to stay warm on the sidewalk, a sign around her neck pleading with customers not to shop at King Soopers. “I’ve shown my half; I’m just looking for a little incentive from their half.”

Over the past few weeks, she’s had to explain to her son and nieces and nephews why she was standing outside her workplace with a sign. Ruiz pointed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday as a fitting example.

“When you believe in something big,” Ruiz said, “you have to take action.”

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RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Josie Penley walks the picket line outside the King Soopers where she works in Denver on Jan. 19, 2022.

“Colorado is very exepensive”

Every Friday night, Josie Penley’s 9-year-old grows excited.

It’s ramen night.

A lot of nights have turned into ramen nights in Penley’s house, as the single mother of two tries to make the numbers work every month on $20 an hour.

When the 30-year-old started at King Soopers a dozen years ago, the $9.14 an hour wasn’t bad. But that’s when rent cost $600 a month, not the $1,150 she pays now, and before she had two other mouths to feed.

“I’m not asking for $30 an hour,” she said Wednesday outside the Speer Boulevard store. “But Colorado is very expensive.”

Her boyfriend moved in after three months — more out of financial necessity than anything, Penley said. She relies heavily on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which provides food and health care referrals to low-income families with young kids.

“I make too much for food stamps,” Penley said, “but not enough to live.”

She sticks with the job because she feels she can’t just leave the insurance benefits, and she recently got sick with COVID-19. So did most of the deli staff, Penley said. Her job in optimum wellness requires her to touch everything the customers touch.

“We want and deserve hazard pay,” Penley said.

“Everybody deserves a livable wage”

Michelle Kissinger’s day begins at 4 a.m., hurrying to make her 5 a.m. shift at the King Soopers store just east of Green Mountain Park in Lakewood.

The 52-year-old mother and grandmother works a full shift as a pick-up shopper, then embarks on her second job, driving for Door Dash food delivery. After 12 hours of work, she hurries home to make her daughter dinner, then does it all again the next day.

“My daughter told me, ‘You love this job more than you love me,’” Kissinger said as frozen rain blew sideways Wednesday morning while she picketed outside the Lakewood grocery store. “That just about broke my heart.”

She yearns to work a 40-hour week, but needs the second job to actually buy food and clothes for her daughter.

Kissinger used to sing and dance at work, a bright and cheery presence among staff. But as workers leave, the remaining staff is being worked ragged, she said. COVID got her and has run through many of her co-workers.

“Everybody deserves a livable wage,” Kissing said, donning her union sign. “Nobody should fear not being able to feed their families.”

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RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

King Soopers employee Moses Carrasco stands on the picket line outside the store where he works in Wheat Ridge on Jan. 19, 2022.

“Cost of living keeps going up”

When Moses Carrasco’s kids were born, he knew he needed good benefits. So he started working at King Soopers — a place he heard had decent pay and the chance at upward mobility.

Within six months, he earned a promotion and took home $16.49 per hour.

That was 14 years ago. Now Carrasco, 43 with grown kids, is making just $3.30 more per hour than he did when he first started — not even enough to keep up with inflation. And everything else about the job is deteriorating, he said.

“The benefits keep getting worse, cost of living keeps going up and raises don’t follow suit,” Carrasco said outside the Wheat Ridge grocery store at 38th Street and Sheridan Boulevard.

As more and more workers leave for better-paying jobs, he said, employees are being asked to do more with less. Six year ago, the deli employed 16 people, Carrasco said. Now it’s down to six.

He worries about employee safety, from COVID precautions and operating heavy machinery to robberies.

“There’s security now that we’re on strike,” he said. “But not when we asked for it.”

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RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

King Soopers employee Candace Arellano walks the picket line outside the store where she works in Wheat Ridge on Jan. 19, 2022.

“Only job I’ve ever known”

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A bear market is hitting Wall Street. Here’s what that means

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A bear market is hitting Wall Street. Here’s what that means

By STAN CHOE and ALEX VEIGA

NEW YORK (AP) — Investors on Wall Street need a place to hide.

The stock market’s skid this year has pulled the S&P 500 within the grasp of what’s known as a bear market. Rising interest rates, high inflation, the war in Ukraine and a slowdown in China’s economy have caused investors to reconsider the prices they’re willing to pay for a wide range of stocks, from high-flying tech companies to traditional automakers.

The last bear market happened just two years ago, but this would still be a first for those investors that got their start trading on their phones during the pandemic. For years, thanks in large part to extraordinary actions by the Federal Reserve, stocks often seemed to go in only one direction: up. Now, the familiar rallying cry to “buy the dip” after every market wobble is giving way to fear that the dip is turning into a crater.

Here are some common questions asked about bear markets:

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WHY IS IT CALLED A BEAR MARKET?

A bear market is a term used by Wall Street when an index like the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, or even an individual stock, has fallen 20% or more from a recent high for a sustained period of time.

Why use a bear to represent a market slump? Bears hibernate, so bears represent a market that’s retreating, said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. In contrast, Wall Street’s nickname for a surging stock market is a bull market, because bulls charge, Stovall said.

The S&P 500 index was down 1.9% in Friday afternoon trading, putting it 20.3% below its high set on Jan. 3. For many investors, the bear market would become official if the S&P 500, Wall Street’s main barometer of health, finishes the day at least 20% down from its peak.

The Nasdaq is already in a bear market, down 31% from its peak of 16,057.44 on Nov. 19. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is more than 16% below its most recent peak.

The most recent bear market for the S&P 500 ran from February 19, 2020 through March 23, 2020. The index fell 34% in that one-month period. It’s the shortest bear market ever.

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WHAT’S BOTHERING INVESTORS?

Market enemy No. 1 is interest rates, which are rising quickly as a result of the high inflation battering the economy. Low rates act like steroids for stocks and other investments, and Wall Street is now going through withdrawal.

The Federal Reserve has made an aggressive pivot away from propping up financial markets and the economy with record-low rates and is focused on fighting inflation. The central bank has already raised its key short-term interest rate from its record low near zero, which had encouraged investors to move their money into riskier assets like stocks or cryptocurrencies to get better returns.

Earlier this month, the Fed signaled additional rate increases of double the usual amount are likely in upcoming months. Consumer prices are at the highest level in four decades, and rose 8.3% in April compared with a year ago.

The moves by design will slow the economy by making it more expensive to borrow. The risk is the Fed could cause a recession if it raises rates too high or too quickly.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has also put upward pressure on inflation by pushing up commodities prices. And worries about China’s economy, the world’s second largest, have added to the gloom.

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SO, WE JUST NEED TO AVOID A RECESSION?

Even if the Fed can pull off the delicate task of tamping down inflation without triggering a downturn, higher interest rates still put downward pressure on stocks.

If customers are paying more to borrow money, they can’t buy as much stuff, so less revenue flows to a company’s bottom line. Stocks tend to track profits over time. Higher rates also make investors less willing to pay elevated prices for stocks, which are riskier than bonds, when bonds are suddenly paying more in interest thanks to the Fed.

Critics said the overall stock market came into the year looking pricey versus history. Big technology stocks and other winners of the pandemic were seen as the most expensive, and those stocks have been the most punished as rates have risen. But the pain is spreading widely, with shares of Target and other retailers slumping hard this week after reporting weaker-than-expected profits.

Stocks have declined almost 35% on average when a bear market coincides with a recession, compared with a nearly 24% drop when the economy avoids a recession, according to Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at LPL Financial.

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SO I SHOULD SELL EVERYTHING NOW, RIGHT?

If you need the money now or want to lock in the losses, yes. Otherwise, many advisers suggest riding through the ups and downs while remembering the swings are the price of admission for the stronger returns that stocks have provided over the long term.

While dumping stocks would stop the bleeding, it would also prevent any potential gains. Many of the best days for Wall Street have occurred either during a bear market or just after the end of one. That includes two separate days in the middle of the 2007-2009 bear market where the S&P 500 surged roughly 11%, as well as leaps of better than 9% during and shortly after the roughly monthlong 2020 bear market.

Advisers suggest putting money into stocks only if it won’t be needed for several years. The S&P 500 has come back from every one of its prior bear markets to eventually rise to another all-time high.

The down decade for the stock market following the 2000 bursting of the dot-com bubble was a notoriously brutal stretch, but stocks have often been able to regain their highs within a few years.

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HOW LONG DO BEAR MARKETS LAST AND HOW DEEP DO THEY GO?

On average, bear markets have taken 13 months to go from peak to trough and 27 months to get back to breakeven since World War II. The S&P 500 index has fallen an average of 33% during bear markets in that time. The biggest decline since 1945 occurred in the 2007-2009 bear market when the S&P 500 fell 57%.

History shows that the faster an index enters into a bear market, the shallower they tend to be. Historically, stocks have taken 251 days (8.3 months) to fall into a bear market. When the S&P 500 has fallen 20% at a faster clip, the index has averaged a loss of 28%.

The longest bear market lasted 61 months and ended in March 1942 and cut the index by 60%.

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HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN A BEAR MARKET HAS ENDED?

Generally, investors look for a 20% gain from a low point as well as sustained gains over at least a six-month period. It took less than three weeks for stocks to rise 20% from their low in March 2020.

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Veiga reported from Los Angeles. __ Follow more of AP’s business coverage at

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Wisconsin’s high court broadens who can carry concealed guns

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Wisconsin’s high court broadens who can carry concealed guns

MADISON, Wis. — A disorderly conduct conviction can’t disqualify someone from obtaining a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday in a unanimous decision that could dramatically broaden who can carry hidden firearms, knives and stun guns.

The court found that disorderly conduct isn’t a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence under federal law and therefore doesn’t disqualify a person from holding a concealed carry license. Justice Jill Karofsky, a member of the court’s liberal minority, concurred but in a separate opinion called on legislators to close a “dangerous loophole” that will allow domestic abusers to carry concealed weapons.

“Though legally correct, this result is as nonsensical as it is dangerous,” Karofsky wrote. “When a domestic abuse perpetrator, who has engaged in threats to kill or any other type of domestic violence, has access to a gun, the lethality risk for his victim increases significantly.”

The case revolves around Daniel Doubek, of Green Bay. According to court documents, Doubek broke into his estranged wife’s trailer in Door County in 1993 waving a board and shouting threats. He was ultimately convicted of disorderly conduct.

The state Justice Department granted Doubek a concealed carry permit in 2016, five years after carrying concealed weapons became legal in Wisconsin. The agency revoked his license in 2019 following an audit that revealed his disorderly conduct conviction.

Federal law prohibits states from issuing concealed carry permits to people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. The Justice Department found Wisconsin’s disorderly conduct statute qualifies as misdemeanor domestic violence as defined under federal code.

Doubek sued to regain his permit, arguing that Wisconsin’s disorderly conduct statute doesn’t match the federal definition of misdemeanor domestic violence. The federal definition requires “the use or attempted use of physical force.” But the state disorderly statute doesn’t mention the use of force, defining disorderly conduct instead as violent, abusive, indecent, profane or other undefined conduct that causes a disturbance, he argued.

A judge in Green Bay upheld the license revocation, but Doubek appealed. The 2nd District Court of Appeals sent the case directly to the state Supreme Court without ruling on it.

Writing for the majority, Justice Brian Hagedorn said a disorderly conduct conviction in Wisconsin can’t disqualify someone from holding a concealed carry license in the state.

“In short, the crime of disorderly conduct … does not require the use or attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon as an element, even if that conduct could serve as the basis for a disorderly conduct conviction,” Hagedorn wrote. “It is therefore not a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence under federal law.”

State Department of Justice spokeswoman Gillian Drummond didn’t immediately respond to emails Friday seeking comment and estimates of how many people may now be eligible for a concealed carry permit following the ruling.

John Monroe, a Georgia-based lawyer who specializes in gun rights cases, represented Doubek. He said he was pleased with the decision.

He acknowledged domestic abuse is a serious problem, but said if prosecutors don’t want violent abusers to have concealed weapons they should charge them with violent offenses like battery.

Jeri Bonavia, executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, which works to curb gun violence, called the decision “horrifying.” Domestic abuse victims now find themselves even more at risk because of a legal technicality, she said.

“They are re-arming domestic abusers,” she said. “(Abusers’) guns were taken away for a reason. We know these people who committed these violent acts are much more likely to go on and commit more acts of violence. It’s devastating.”

Bonavia said she didn’t have any estimates of how many disorderly conduct convicts could now get concealed weapons permits.

A message left at End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, an organization that works to prevent domestic violence, wasn’t immediately returned.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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Two teens charged with fleeing police in stolen cars, crashing near the state Capitol

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Two teens charged with fleeing police in stolen cars, crashing near the state Capitol

Two 15-year-old boys face criminal charges for a Wednesday night incident in which authorities say a group of juveniles fled police in stolen cars, crashed one of them into a St. Paul police squad car near the Minnesota Capitol and then ran from the scene.

The incident sent the Capitol into a brief lockdown, and a House of Representatives floor session went into recess.

The Ramsey County attorney’s office filed juvenile delinquency petitions Friday against the two teens alleging theft of motor vehicle, fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, motor vehicle tampering and fleeing a peace officer by a means other than a motor vehicle.

An attorney’s office spokesman said Friday that cases against two other boys, ages 12 and 13, remain under review.

A fifth suspect who eluded capture Wednesday has yet to be taken into custody, Steve Linders, a police spokesman, said Friday.

The incident began when St. Paul officers saw two stolen cars at Blair and Western avenues in Frogtown at about 7:20 p.m. Officers tried to pull them over, but they drove away. Police did not pursue, based on St. Paul police policy.

A Minnesota State Patrol helicopter tracked the car from the air as they drove to Woodbury. Law enforcement put out a stop stick, and one car — a Hyundai Sonata stolen out of St. Paul — went over and crashed, according to police.

Three juveniles jumped out and into a Honda Accord, which had been stolen in Edina. They drove back to St. Paul and the 15-year-old driver rear-ended a marked St. Paul squad car at about 40 mph near the Capitol, police said. The officer did not immediately report being injured.

The driver soon crashed in a state of Minnesota parking lot and five people ran from the car. Three juveniles tried hiding in a portable toilet and were arrested, while the suspected driver was found at an apartment building at Sherburne Avenue and Rice Street.

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