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With Friday’s deal, King Soopers labor dispute now in workers’ hands

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With Friday’s deal, King Soopers labor dispute now in workers’ hands

Soon after King Soopers and the union announced a tentative agreement Friday in a 10-day labor dispute, the picket lines were gone and parking lots at the grocery stores around the Denver area were once again filling up.

Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 will decide Monday if the agreement struck between union and company negotiators will be permanent. The strike that began Jan. 12 covered more than 8,000 King Soopers employees at 78 stores in Boulder, Parker and across the metro area.

The strike was the first among Colorado grocery store employees since 1996 when union members walked off the job at King Soopers. Safeway and Albertsons eventually locked out workers. That strike lasted 42 days.

This time, workers’ complaints that the company hasn’t adequately supported or protected them during the coronavirus pandemic fueled anger over other issues, including wages, the outsourcing of jobs and workplace safety in the face of rising crime.

Labor shortages plaguing industries nationwide in an economy still recovering from the pandemic were seen as giving workers some leverage. Before the strike, Cindi Fukami, a professor of management in the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, said she wondered where King Soopers would find replacement workers.

“I was very surprised when it did go to a strike because of that,” Fukami added.

She said she was also surprised by the amount of support the community showed the striking workers. “People really did honor the picket lines, and I think that was part of the speed with which things were settled.”

In a statement announcing the tentative agreement, UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova thanked the union’s allies and the people who supported the workers by not crossing the picket line.

Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market, also owned by Kroger, said in a separate statement that the company looks forward to welcoming back its employees and customers.

The company and union didn’t release details of the agreement Friday. Cordova said the final terms of the three-year contract would be made public following the vote.

“We’re pretty hopeful. It sounds like a good deal from what we understand, but we don’t know the fine details right now,” said Kenny Sanchez, a 10-year King Soopers employee who runs a wellness center at a Broomfield store.

Sanchez said he was on the picket lines every day of the strike, putting in 18 hours one day last week. “It was a knock-out, drag-out just every day.”

However, support from the community was strong, Sanchez said. People brought workers food and drinks and many customers didn’t patronize the store.

Marcey Goldis, a 29-year King Soopers employee, said Friday that she was happy to be off the picket line but was frustrated by not knowing more about the agreement.

“I’m hearing little bits of pieces about the agreement, but they’re not going to tell anybody what it is until five minutes before we go there on Monday (to vote). I don’t like that,” Goldis said.

It will be important for union members, especially the young ones, to sit down and read carefully through the agreement, Goldis said. She thinks people didn’t pay close enough attention to a contract in 2005 that created a two-tier structure that starts people hired after then at lower pay.

“I’m really hoping for the best,” Goldis said.

Shortly before the 10-day strike, the union filed a lawsuit against King Soopers that accused the company of unfair labor practices by using third-party staffing agencies to do union-covered work. The company filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that accused the union of unfair labor practices.

On Tuesday, a Denver District Court approved part of King Soopers’ request for a temporary restraining order. The company said some of the striking workers had blocked customers’ access to stores, obstructed deliveries and threatened and intimidated customers, employees and vendors.

The UFCW Local 7 said the accusations were baseless.

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US reaches deal to reopen shuttered baby formula plant

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US reaches deal to reopen shuttered baby formula plant

By ZEKE MILLER and MATTHEW PERRONE

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials on Monday reached an agreement to allow baby formula maker Abbott to restart its largest domestic factory, though it will be two months or more before any new products ship from the site to help alleviate the national shortage facing parents.

Under the agreement, Abbott must work with outside experts to upgrade its standards and reduce bacterial contamination at the Sturgis, Michigan, facility, which the Food and Drug Administration has been investigating since early this year. The deal, which must be reviewed by a federal judge, amounts to a legally binding agreement between the FDA and the company on steps needed to reopen the factory.

The agreement was filed in court by the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the FDA.

After production resumes, Abbott said it will take eight to ten weeks before new products begin arriving in stores. The company didn’t set a timeline to restart manufacturing, which must be cleared with the FDA.

The FDA is expected to announce additional steps Monday evening to allow more foreign imports into the U.S. to address the supply problems. It comes as the administration of President Joe Biden faces intense pressure to do more to ease the shortage that has left many parents hunting for formula online or at food banks.

Abbott’s plant came under scrutiny in January when the FDA began investigating four bacterial infections among infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant. Two of the babies died.

In February, the company halted production and recalled several brands of powdered formula, squeezing supplies that had already been tightened by supply chain disruptions and stockpiling during COVID-19. The shortage has led retailers like CVS and Walgreen’s to limit how many containers customers can purchase per visit.

Outrage over the issue has quickly snowballed and handed Republicans a fresh talking point to use against Biden ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Abbott is one of just four companies that produce roughly 90% of U.S. formula, and its brands account for nearly half that market.

After a six-week inspection, FDA investigators published a list of problems in March, including lax safety and sanitary standards and a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant.

Chicago-based Abbott has emphasized that its products have not been directly linked to the bacterial infections in children. Samples of the bacteria found at its plant did not match the strains collected from the babies by federal investigators. The company has repeatedly stated it is ready to resume manufacturing, pending an FDA decision.

Former FDA officials say fixing the type of problems uncovered at Abbott’s plant takes time, and infant formula facilities receive more scrutiny than other food facilities. Companies need to exhaustively clean the facility and equipment, retrain staff, repeatedly test and document there is no contamination.

On Monday, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told ABC News that an announcement was forthcoming about importing baby formula from abroad. The key issue is making sure the instructions for the formula are in languages that mothers and caregivers can understand, he noted.

Pediatricians say baby formulas produced in Canada and Europe are roughly equivalent to those in the U.S. But traditionally, 98% of the infant formula supply in the U.S. is made domestically. Companies seeking to enter the U.S. face several major hurdles, including rigorous research and manufacturing standards imposed by the FDA.

San Diego father Steven Hyde has faced heart-wrenching challenges finding formula for his medical fragile daughter, who was on an Abbott formula but has had to switch with the recall and subsequent shortages in other brands.

Zoie Hyde was born 19 months ago with no kidneys, a rare life-threatening condition that requires dialysis and a feeding tube until she weighs enough for a kidney transplant.

Hyde said he used an organic brand from overseas until costs and customs hurdles made that too difficult. Friends and strangers from out of state have sent him other brands, but each time she switches requires more blood tests and monitoring, Davis said.

Despite her challenges, Zoie is walking, talking and “doing pretty good’ on other developmental milestones, Davis said.

“She’s a shining light in my life,’ he said.

___

AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner contributed to this story from Three Oaks, Michigan.

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Why Elon Musk Is Having Second Thoughts About Buying Twitter, According to a Top Tesla Analyst

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Why Elon Musk Is Having Second Thoughts About Buying Twitter, According to a Top Tesla Analyst

Why Elon Musk Is Having Second Thoughts About Buying Twitter

Elon Musk says his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter is temporarily on hold because he is investigating how many of the platform’s users are real. It’s possible the world’s richest man didn’t conduct proper due diligence before submitting his offer. Or perhaps he’s having second thoughts about buying Twitter and looking for an excuse to back out.

The takeover, which has involved multiple investment banks and more than a dozen co-investors, now has a less than 50 percent chance of going through, according to Dan Ives, a Wedbush Securities analyst known for his coverage of Tesla stock.

“Our view is while Musk is committed to the deal, the massive pressure on Tesla’s stock since the deal, a changing stock market/risk environment the last month, and a number of other financing factors has caused Musk to get ‘cold feet’ on the Twitter deal,” Ives’ team wrote in a note to clients on May 16.

Ives added that the proportion of spam account on Twitter, which Musk claims is slowing down the deal, is “not a new issue and likely more of a scapegoat to push for a lower price.”

Under Musk’s agreement with Twitter, he will have to pay $1 billion in breakup fee if the deal falls apart.

Pushing for a lower price might be necessary, given Musk’s struggle finding the money to pay for the deal.

Tesla’s falling share prices complicates Musk’s plans

Musk has said he plans to sell $21 billion worth of his Tesla stock to fund the Twitter purchase. Tesla’s share price has fallen sharply in recent weeks, meaning that he would have to sell a lot more shares than he initially wanted to get the cash.

Tesla’s share price is down 28 percent since the acquisition was announced on April 24. The anticipation of Musk’s heavy unloading of his shares, Tesla’s manufacturing turmoil in China, and a broad market selloff all contributed to Tesla’s decline.

Yet Musk is pointing at Twitter for pausing the deal. He suspects bot accounts make up a bigger portion of Twitter users than the less than 5 percent claimed by the company. Since Musk said removing bot accounts is a key goal once he owns Twitter, he won’t move forward until he has definitive information about its user makeup.

The exact number of bot accounts is something that can only be calculated internally because it requires the use of private user information, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal explained in a series of tweets on May 16.

“We don’t believe that this specific estimation can be performed externally,” Agrawal wrote in one of the tweets, adding that, without private data such as geolocation and IP addresses, it’s not even possible to know which accounts are counted as daily active users.

Musk dismissed Agrawal’s arguments by replying with a turd emoji. In a text response later, he suggested bot information should be at least available to Twitter’s advertisers. “So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter,” Musk tweeted.

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Park Square’s ‘Airness’ promises plenty of headbanging — and a message

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Park Square’s ‘Airness’ promises plenty of headbanging — and a message

It sounds silly at first blush. Yes, there are people who not only like to pretend that they’re playing rock guitar for arenas full of cheering throngs. What rock lover hasn’t done that at some point? But they actually compete against others for who does it with the greatest sense of style, realism and creativity.

Now if I tell you that there’s a play about a community of said imaginary guitar players who converge upon competitions around the country, you would be correct in assuming it’s a comedy. But it’s also a really well-crafted play, full of richly detailed characters with offbeat wisdom to share about getting in touch with yourself and your tribe.

“Airness” is currently receiving its Twin Cities premiere in Park Square Theatre’s first production since the pandemic’s arrival. Written by Chelsea Marcantel, it was among the most heralded new plays of late last decade, and Park Square’s production makes clear why. A topic that could invite derisive laughter instead inspires compassion for a group of people who may be linked by the act of pretending, but are some of the most real characters you may find on a local stage this year.

In the director’s chair is a veteran Twin Cities actor with a reputation for crafting vivid characters, Angela Timberman. Her clearly committed cast lends a verite vibe to a story centered around a seemingly absurd pursuit. And Marcantel has a marvelous ear for speech, both in the competitors’ banter and in captivating monologues when they set down their invisible guitars and talk about what truly drives them.

The plot unfolds over a series of regional air guitar competitions, newcomer Nina acting as our everywoman learning the tricks of the trade and finding acceptance within a supportive community of high-energy pantomime practitioners devoted to “melting faces and breaking hearts for 60 seconds.”

Yes, that’s how long you get to impress judges in an air guitar competition. And each of these artists seeks to not only wow spectators but tap into something deeper about what they want to tell the world (or at least a bar full of people) about themselves.

Nina gradually comes into her own with the guidance of analytical “Shreddy Eddy,” flamboyant “Golden Thunder,” open-hearted “Facebender,” and disdainful but eventually big-sisterly “Cannibal Queen.” They’ve become among the elite in their discipline with the help of tracks from the Ramones, Billy Idol and Queen, among others. Despite their posturing in the spotlight, they’re a vulnerable crew, and we come to see why this form of catharsis is so important to each of them.

Julia Valen’s Nina proves a fine guide to this milieu, endearing but occasionally explosive. And each of the others seizes at least one scene to command the stage. Such as when Daniel Petzold’s Facebender speaks of how a job dealing with death forced him to re-examine his life. Or Neal Skoy’s Shreddy Eddy poetically explains what Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” means to him.

If there’s a villain in this story, it’s Eric “Pogi” Sumangil’s “D Vicious,” who won the national championship last year, but is now turning a cold shoulder to his former support network. Yet he invites sympathy when we watch an endorsement opportunity shred his self-esteem.

But each actor offers a layered portrayal ideal for Marcantel’s pitch-perfect writing. Clad in the eye-catching costumes of Ash M. Kaun, they prove very enjoyable company, and may even inspire you to examine if you have enough self-expression in your life.

Rob Hubbard is a freelance Twin Cities arts writer. Reach him at [email protected]

‘Airness’

  • When: Through June 5
  • Where: Park Square Theatre, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul
  • Tickets: $40-$16, available at 651-291-7005 or parksquaretheatre.org
  • Capsule: Outstanding writing and acting make a show about pretending disarmingly real.
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