By Siddharth Cavale and Praveen Paramasivam

(Reuters) -More than 8,000 workers at nearly 80 King Soopers stores went on strike for better wages and benefits on Wednesday after the latest round of negotiations between the Kroger Co-owned Colorado chain and the union failed.

The strike started at 7:00 a.m. ET and will go on for three weeks, UFCW Local 7 union said. The workers on strike are employed at King Soopers stores in the Denver metropolitan area, Boulder, Parker and Broomfield cities of Colorado, among others.

Kroger said King Soopers would remain open as it has brought in workers from across the country and hired temporary staff to fill in for those striking.

This is the latest in a string of labor strikes in the United States following similar events at Kellogg Co’s U.S. cereal plants and Deere & Co as rising cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and inflation push workers to demand higher wages and better working conditions.

At King Soopers, workers have sought an increase in wages of at least $6 per hour for all. However, the company’s “last, best and final offer” proposed raises of up to $4.50 per hour based on job classification and tenure.

The company’s final offer, which was made on Tuesday, said it would invest $170 million in wages and bonuses over the next three years. It will offer a starting pay of $16 per hour and will invest more in healthcare benefits.

This came after the union rejected two previous wage offers, the latest among them for $148 million, made last week.

Kim Cordova, the president of UFCW Local 7, said Tuesday’s offer was worse than the previous offers in many ways. She said the offer “still doesn’t cut it” and retains many of the previously proposed concessions and adds new concessionary items.

Kroger does not disclose sales of King Soopers, which operates more than 110 stores in Colorado and is the No. 1 grocery chain in the state by market share.

But investment research firm CFRA said the King Soopers/City Market stores in Colorado account for about 5% of Kroger’s annual sales. Kroger recorded sales of $132.5 billion in the year to Jan. 30.

“Depending on how long the strike goes on, there could be long-term implications on market share, as Walmart and Albertsons are top competitors to Kroger in the Colorado area,” CFRA Research analyst Arun Sundaram said.

Several customers turned to social media on Wednesday to voice their support for the union and also said they would boycott Kroger during the strike.

“I will not cross a picket line or spend a dollar at @Kroger until workers get respect and protection,” Colorado State Senator Jessie Danielson, a Democrat, said in a tweet

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Praveen Paramasivam in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Aditya Soni)