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Walmart Is Testing a Fulfillment Service for Vendors to Match Amazon

Walmart Inc., looking to generate more profit from its online unit, wants to start storing and shipping products for third-party vendors for the first time, just as rival Amazon.com Inc. has done for years.

The world’s largest retailer is testing a fee-based service called “Fulfilled by Walmart,” U.S. e-commerce chief Marc Lore said at an industry conference this week. Lore didn’t provide details, but said the service would be an area where the e-commerce arm could generate revenue. It would allow Walmart to move more items from outside merchants, especially ones that generate wider margins.

The move could help Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business stem losses, which Morgan Stanley estimates may reach $1.7 billion this year, by making transportation a source of revenue rather than just an expense.

Amazon, which has operated its own “Fulfillment By Amazon” service since 2006, has found that merchants are willing to fork over fees since the e-commerce giant can often get goods to customers faster through its own distribution networks. Three out of four Amazon sellers employ fulfillment by Amazon in some capacity, according to Feedvisor, which sells advertising and pricing software used by Amazon sellers.

A Walmart spokesman pointed to comments Lore made on a call with reporters in August, when he said fulfillment “will be a future part of marketplace” but declined to say when.

Walmart’s fulfillment service is “exactly what they should be doing,” Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of data tracker Marketplace Pulse, said.

Walmart introduced its marketplace site for third-party sellers a decade ago, and it now offers about 75 million products, compared with Amazon’s selection of more than 300 million. Like Amazon, Walmart charges a fee — typically about 15% — to list the item on its site. But so far Walmart has relied on outside logistics providers to handle those orders. One of those, San Francisco-based Deliverr Inc., fulfills Walmart marketplace orders with a pledge of arriving within two days. Michael Krakaris, co-founder of Deliverr, declined to comment.

Walmart shares rose 0.8% to $116.97 at 3:32 p.m. in New York, while Amazon was up 1.3% to $1,846.60.

By handling fulfillment for everything from t-shirts to microwave ovens, Walmart could also reduce embarrassing incidents that occur when outside vendors hawk obscene or offensive products, like Nazi memorabilia.

Large Network

Walmart’s network of cavernous warehouses and its private fleet of 6,500 trucks has prompted speculation for some time that it could start a third-party fulfillment service similar to Amazon’s. In March 2017, Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said he “wouldn’t rule it out,” and in June 2017 Lore said “it’s something we talk about and consider.”

In its second quarter, Amazon’s revenue from so-called “third-party seller services,” which include fulfillment fees and listing commissions, rose 23% to almost $12 billion.

Source: Bloomberg

The next wave of labor unrest could be in grocery stores

Grocery workers in the Pacific Northwest are demanding higher wages and an end to the gender pay gap that permeates their stores. They have established proof for the latter, commissioning a third-party group to produce a report on the issue. The research group Olympic Analytics looked at the data on hourly wage, gender, age, years of Fred Meyer experience, and job title for 1,919 Fred Meyer workers employed in the area. It found that women are almost twice as likely to be given lead positions, but make about an average of $1.68 less than their male counterparts at those positions. In 2018, nearly 80% of the store’s bakery employees were women, while the higher-paying produce department was male-dominated. The gap between these two departments has barely shifted over the last 81 years: The pay gap between the two departments was 27.3% in 1937 and had only dropped to 21.5% by 2018.

Jane Thompson has been working at a Fred Meyer store in Bend, Oregon for 18 years, and has been in the Seafood Department for 12 of them. She hopes the strike authorization vote will lead to better pay for her and her co-workers. “The company keeps taking more and more away from us,” she told In These Times. According to the U.S. Census, the population of Bend increased by almost 30% between 2010 and 2018. While the boom has meant more customers, Thompson said it hasn’t meant additional hires or higher pay. “I’m doing the job of two people now,” said Thompson.

Ann Poff is a member of the union’s bargaining committee and has worked as a deli clerk at Safeway for nearly 22 years. She currently makes $1.85 above minimum wage, but the minimum wage is set to increase in Oregon over the next few years. This means that she’ll make just $1.45 above minimum wage for two years, before making just 75 cents above it in the year after that. “The minimum wage is going up, but our wages are going down,” she reasoned. According to Poff, when she once asked to be transferred to a different position, her request was denied despite having spent over 20 years on the job. A male co-worker with less than a year of experience was allowed to switch to the position instead, she said.

At the last bargaining meeting, the employers actually offered a proposal that inexplicably paid many departments less than minimum wage by the year 2022. When confronted about this fact, management offered a mere dime over the state’s minimum wage. “Fred Meyer/Kroger seem to be oddly comfortable being known as the grocer who profits off the devaluation of their workers…specifically women,” said the union in a statement.

Local 555’s president has indicated that there is a “high likelihood that we will see an economic action taken against stores in the near future” and has promised to release details before September 10. Meanwhile, California grocery workers at Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores have been working without a contract since March and have already voted to authorize a strike. On September 8, it was announced that the union and the employers had reached a tentative deal, but members have yet to vote on it and no details have been released.

This isn’t the first labor fight that has gripped the grocery industry this year. In April, roughly 31,000 employees at the New England grocery chain Stop & Shop went on strike at over 240 stores. The workers, who were also represented by the UFCW, were fighting against attacks on their pensions, rising healthcare costs, and the potential elimination of certain overtime pay. After striking for 11 days, the union agreed to a new contract and announced that the company had met their major demands. Ahold Delhaize, Stop & Shop’s parent company, says that the strike cost them $345 million.

That number might be frightening for the grocery employers currently facing potential strikes, but it’s also caught the eye of right-wing, anti-labor forces. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation aims to damage organized labor by fighting compulsory union membership in courts. Most notably, it was one of the groups that represented child support specialist Mark Janus, who ultimately achieved a massive victory for the political right at the Supreme Court. The group has filed two unfair labor practice charges against Stop & Shop for an employee named Matthew Coffey who opposed the strike.

Sam Hughes is a social media coordinator at UFCW and a former deli worker at Fred Meyer. Hughes, who prefers “they” pronouns, told In These Times that they had to work additional jobs because they often couldn’t get enough hours from the store. “I found myself being paid low wages on food stamps, cutting deals with my landlord just to afford below-market rent,” said Hughes. Hughes also said the strike authorization vote was a way to fight against the “dehumanization of workers,” and that related labor victories throughout the country underscored an important point: “There’s a lot more of us than there are of them.”

Source: Salon

Jeff Bezos abruptly cuts health benefits for nearly 2,000 part-time Whole Foods workers

The news of Bezos’s decision didn’t come as a surprise to writer Elon Green.

“Recall that one of Bezos’s first acts as publisher of The Washington Post was to cut his staff’s retirement benefits,” Green tweeted.

The move came less than a month after Bezos signed a pledge to invest in workers, The Verge explained:

Last month, Amazon joined a number of other tech companies and Fortune 500 firms in signing a letter outlining the purpose of a corporation as something not just designed to return shareholder value, but also to serve employees and the community. “Each of our stakeholders is essential,” the pledge read. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

That disconnect between words and actions, Business Insidercolumnist Bob Bryan said, proves there’s no substitute for solidarity.

“The Whole Foods decision is not just hypocritical of Bezos, but also proves why workers should never put too much trust in kind words from CEOs and instead push for lasting changes to uphold their interests and those of their coworkers,” Bryan wrote.

Source: Salon

Walmart is going national with unlimited grocery delivery plan

Walmart didn’t offer specifics on how many customers signed up for its Delivery Unlimited program during the four-market pilot, which was first reported in June, but the response must have been strong to drive expansion so quickly. With the resources, physical presence and labor Walmart has, scaling rapidly is a key advantage it holds.

While Walmart has led the charge in grocery pickup, boosting grocery delivery is a major step towards keeping pace with Amazon and remaining competitive with traditional grocers like Albertsons, which has also introduced its own delivery plan.

Senior vice president of digital operations Tom Ward said in a statement that Delivery Unlimited is the next step in Walmart’s online grocery journey. “By pairing our size and scale and these services we’re making Walmart the easiest place to shop. Combine that with the value we can provide, our customers can’t lose,” Ward said.

Delivery plans and memberships may soon become the status quo in grocery delivery. In addition to Prime, Delivery Unlimited and Albertsons’ yet-to-be-named plan, memberships for unlimited grocery delivery have been a foundation for online grocers Instacart and Shipt. While some shoppers may initially balk at paying the price, these memberships can solidify shopper loyalty, encourage repeat purchases and drive bigger baskets.

Recent research from data company Second Measure shows Walmart has 62% more online grocery customers than Instacart, its closest rival. Given the company’s e-commerce loyalty, expansive footprint and promotional heft, adoption of grocery delivery may occur faster than it would among other shoppers at other grocery stores.

“While consumer demand for this type of service remains a bit murky in our view, especially from a cost perspective for both the retailers and consumers, Walmart’s massive 5,300-plus store network, and around $270 billion in grocery-equivalent U.S. revenue, continues to make it the most formidable competitor in the segment, and this expanding initiative ups the ante immensely,” Moody’s analyst Charlie O’Shea wrote in a note emailed to Grocery Dive.

It will be important to track how shoppers respond over time, especially as more grocers introduce their own subscription plans. Will customers become loyal to a single brand, or will they be willing to fork over cash to access to multiple grocery delivery services? Walmart and its rivals will, no doubt, do whatever they can to incentivize shoppers and convince them that their membership the only one worth having.

Source: Grocery Dive

Grocery strike likely averted as execs, union reach tentative deal

The union representing Southern California grocery workers has reached a tentative contract deal with supermarket chains, likely averting a strike previously authorized by its members.

Details of the contract were not disclosed Sunday pending meetings with some 46,000 members, which will be held Monday at the United Food and Commercial Workers’ seven locals, according to a union statement.

Union leaders will recommend its workers ratify the agreement with Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons and Pavilions, according to an email statement from Mike Shimpock, spokesman for Local 770.

Greg Conger,  president of Orange County’s Local 324, said in a phone interview that the agreement was reached at 4 a.m. Sunday.

“There’s something for everyone in our membership,” he said. The deal did include some compromises.

“One side doesn’t come out of these meetings jumping for joy,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s anything someone will dislike.”

Ralphs’ spokesman John Votava said via email the deal includes pay hikes and a continuation of benefits, key issues that had stalled earlier negotiations.

“We are pleased to have worked with the union to secure increased wages, continued premium health care coverage and pension stability,” Votava said. “Our associates are the heart of our company and this agreement is a reflection of their contributions.”

Ralphs has 18,000 union workers at 190 Southern California stores.

Representatives for Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions did not respond Sunday to requests for comment.

“This is a step forward toward what our vision of what grocery jobs should be in the future,” said John Grant, president of Local 770, in the statement.

Results of the membership vote will be announced Thursday morning.

2003-04 strike upended the industry

Almost 16 years ago, picket lines in front of Southern California’s major supermarkets divided communities, upset shopping habits, and drained cash flows from three dominant supermarket chains.

Supermarket executives and UFCW leaders this weekend ended five days of intense talks, most likely avoiding a repeat of the 2003-2004 labor dispute that brought vast changes to the area’s grocery industry.

Southland grocery workers of union local 770 march in front of at Ralphs store in Woodland Hills Thursday. They are United Food and Commercial Workers as they continue a series of rallies to call on their employers to accept their request for “higher wages that keep up with inflation of their healthcare and retirement plans” in a new three-year contract. UFCW members’ former contract expired in early March, and members voted 96% to authorize a strike in response to their employers’ reluctance to accept workers’ requests, contact says. Woodland hills CA, Thursday. Aug 15,2019. (photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer)

The union had set this weekend as the final stage of contract negotiations. The two sides have been in negotiations since early March when the previous contract expired. Employees continued to work under the terms of the expired deal.

A federal mediator joined the negotiations in April to help facilitate a deal. But the progress has been minimal, and in late August union leaders set the five-day session that ended Sunday as the deadline before bringing the question of a strike directly to the members.

A strike would have been very costly to both two sides. The 2003-2004 strike and lockout cost the three major chains a combined $1.5 billion in sales, according to estimates and cost 60,000 workers almost five months of lost wages.

It also cost union jobs overall because most of the major grocery chains have shrunk in the last 15 years. The strike gave rise to the influence of nonunion chains, including Walmart, Costco and Target, who invested heavily in grocery sales. Walmart and Target did not have full lines of groceries before 2003.

There are 200 fewer groceries staffed by union workers in Southern California than there were during the 2003-2004 strike, according to Burt Flickinger III, a retail analyst with Strategic Resource Group.

Fifteen years ago, unionized groceries commanded slightly more than 60% of the market. Today it’s closer to 40%, with Costco and Walmart taking the largest pieces of that market share.

Competition mounts

Flickinger said Friday that both the big-box chains, along with Target,  are making strides in their reach for grocery shoppers. Costco said it is now the top provider for prime beef and has a growing demand for organic produce.

“And Walmart said that between now and 12 months from now, it will be able to deliver fresh food to every Southern California home,” Flickinger said. “Target said it is also accelerating its home deliveries.”

Before the 2003 strike, Flickinger pointed out, there was just one Walmart in eastern San Diego County and Imperial County. Today there are 26. Several chains that did not exist in Southern California15 years ago, such as Aldi and Sprouts, are now gaining market share.

The rise of online shopping for daily grocery supplies is an issue the major unionized chains are still trying to catch up with. One shopper outside a Riverside Ralphs store last week said she was running into the store for a single item. She said she does almost all her shopping by using Instacart.

Flickinger said he expected both parties to understand the long-term stakes involved.

“I think both sides will reach a constructive, competitive contract,” he said. “It’s important for unionized retailers to continue to reinvest, renovate, remodel, to continue to keep as strong as the non-union stores.”

Recently, a strike by workers at the Stop & Shop chain in New England — which lasted only 11 days but included the Easter and Passover holidays — cost the company $345 million, its parent company, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize reported.

A strike in Southern California would directly affect about 46,000 workers employed by Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions. Employees at the Stater Bros. and Gelsons chains, which was also represented by UFCW, have typically accepted the same labor agreements the major regional chains signed.

Over the last three months, UFCW has held numerous rallies outside stores, where they picketed and urged shoppers to boycott the stores while they were protesting. The locals in Los Angeles and Orange counties said they appeared at every Ralphs in that jurisdiction.

Many shoppers said they would honor picket lines if there was a strike and take their business elsewhere.

Calvin Smith, loading groceries into his vehicle in the parking lot of the Ralphs store on Magnolia Avenue in Riverside, said one of his first jobs was as a bagger at a Lucky’s store, and that left him sympathetic to the union’s cause. He said he would not cross a picket line.

“When it comes to a worker providing for a family, you have to get your voice heard,” Smith said. “And they need to get their requests granted.”

Eva Burgess, at an Albertsons in Riverside’s Orangecrest area, echoed that sentiment. “If there was a picket line, I probably would not cross it,” she said. ” They need to make a living wage.”

Another woman at the Albertsons parking lot, who declined to give her name, said she prefers Stater Bros. for groceries and was there to shop at a Petco location next to Albertsons. She said she is not a fan of unions, saying that they sometimes value union loyalty over efficiency and customer service.

“In some cases, (unions) have good intentions, but it seems that it makes bad people harder to get rid of,” she said.

Source: Press-Enterprise

Union-Backed Ballot Initiative Would Limit Grocery Stores to 2 Self-Checkout Machines

Labor unions in Oregon are taking aim at a new threat to the working man: self-checkout machines.

On Thursday, the Oregon chapter of the AFL-CIO, a federation of unions in the state,submitted the first batch of signatures required to get the Grocery Store Service and Community Protection Act on the 2020 state ballot. The measure would forbid Oregon’s grocery stores from operating more than two self-checkout machines at a time.

“The widescale use of self-checkout machines in our state’s grocery stores is part of a deliberate corporate strategy that relies on automation to reduce labor costs and eliminate jobs,” Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlin said in a statement. After the state attorney general drafts an official ballot title for its measure, petitioners will have to collect 112,000 signatures in order to qualify for the state ballot.

The text of the ballot initiative details a number of ills allegedly caused by self-checkout machines.

These include the loss of grocery store jobs, the enabling of underage alcohol purchases, and an increase in “social isolation and related negative health consequences.” The text also mentions difficulties the disabled or elderly sometimes have with operating the machines.

The state’s Bureau of Labor and Industry would be empowered to fine noncompliant stores the equivalent of one day’s salary and benefits for their highest-paid retail clerk. That’s for the first offense; further violations would result in increased fines.

The Willamatte Week reports that the initiative comes in the midst of tense salary negotiations between the grocery store chain Fred Meyer and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555, an AFL-CIO-affiliated union that represents grocery store workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington. In late August, the UFCW voted to authorize a strike should negotiations with Fred Meyer break down.

One could interpret this initiative as a way of applying pressure on Fred Meyer during these negotiations. It’s not hard to see why labor organizations would want to effectively require stores to hire more of their members.

That perhaps explains why the public-spirited arguments offered by the Oregon AFL-CIO for their measure are so weak.

For starters, grocery stores continue to maintain a hybrid of self-checkout machines and full-service checkout aisles. Folks who have difficulty operating self-checkout machines or who enjoy bantering with clerks can still opt to have an employee to scan their groceries for them.

And while a reduction in labor costs might be a bad thing for unions, it’s generally good for customers, who reap the benefits of lower prices. These same consumers can then spend the money they save on other products and services, creating more jobs that don’t need to be mandated into existence.

Indeed, the arguments advanced by the Oregon AFL-CIO’s ballot initiative could just have been deployed a century ago to prevent grocery stores from transitioning to modern, human-staffed checkout aisles the group is now trying to preserve. Back in the day, customers had to wait on grocery store staff to assemble their orders for them. The introduction of self-service grocery stores in the early 20th century allowed patrons to stroll the aisles themselves, picking out which goods they wanted. The change saved shoppers and stores time and money, creating the far more convenient stores we know today.

Few would argue that we’d be better off if lawmakers in the 1920s chose to ban self-service grocery stores in an effort to save jobs and prevent “social isolation.” Cracking down on self-checkout machines seems equally foolish.

Source: Reason.com

Grocery workers ready to walk in 3 states

In a series of strike votes over the summer, members of United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) in Oregon, Washington, and California voted overwhelmingly to authorize strikes if contract bargaining with big grocery chains fails to produce acceptable union contracts.

On one side are 20,000 members of UFCW Local 555 in Oregon and Southwest Washington, (and another 30,000 members of nine UFCW locals in Southern California.) On the other side are two massive grocery companies that own multiple grocery chains: Kroger (which owns chains including Fred Meyer and QFC in the Northwest and Ralph’s in California) and Albertsons (which owns Safeway, Albertsons, and 18 other chains). The grocers bargain together as an employer group.

“They’re offering nickels and dimes, and we’re asking for dollars,” says UFCW Local 555 bargaining team member Tena Burch-Wolski, who works as a cashier at a Fred Meyer store in Vancouver.

At an Aug. 29 negotiating session, the Local 555 bargaining team was stunned to receive an employer wage offer that would have been below Oregon’s minimum wage, which is set to rise to $14.75 in the Portland area in three years. When the union pointed that out, management negotiators increased the offer to 10 cents above minimum.

A research study commissioned by Local 555 found that the wage scale gap in local union contracts dates back as far as 1937. Back then, it was perfectly legal to pay women less than men. As late as the 1960s and 1970s, grocery union contracts in Oregon and Washington referred to Schedule B workers as “bakery and delicatessen girls” or “sales girls.” Those gendered references were removed from union contracts by the 1980s, but the pay gap itself persisted.Local 555 also says the latest employer offer does too little to reduce a serious gender gap in wages. Earlier this year, the union dug into data provided by Fred Meyer and found that male journeyman grocery workers outearn women by $1.31 an hour on average. The disparity comes chiefly from the fact that managers are assigning women applicants twice as often as men to jobs in a lower-paid wage scale known as Schedule B that covers work in the bakery and deli departments.

“We’re not accusing anybody of conscious discrimination,” says Burch-Wolski, “but now that it’s been brought to their attention that there’s a problem… we’re asking that they partner with us to do something about it.”

The most recent employer offer would raise wages 30 cents an hour each year for Schedule A and 40 cents an hour for Schedule B. At that rate, it would takemore than three decades for Fred Meyer, Safeway and Albertsons to achieve gender pay equity.

Local 555 is getting outside support in its campaign for gender justice. At least 28 Oregon legislators have made public statements in support of Local 555’s gender pay equity campaign. And the Oregon AFL-CIO, the state labor federation that Local 555 is an affiliate of, has been waging its own independent gender pay equity campaign, targeting Fred Meyer. The labor federation has converted three box trucks into roving billboards. Driving around Fred Meyer stores, the trucks say, “Shop somewhere else! Fred Meyer pays women less than men.” The AFL-CIO has also organized an ongoing series of protests outside Fred Meyer stores.

At an Aug. 29 bargaining session — after Local 555 announced that its members approved strike authorization by 94% — employers improved their offer slightly. But the two sides are still far apart.

“There is a high likelihood that we will see an economic action taken against stores in the near future,” said Local 555 President Dan Clay in an Aug. 30 press statement. “We will release details by Tuesday, Sept. 10.”

Source: NW Labor Press

Why 47,000 grocery workers in California may go on strike

Some 47,000 supermarket workers at Ralphs, Albertsons and other grocery chains in southern California are closer to starting the largest private-sector strike since 74,000 General Motors employees walked off the job in 2007.

Here’s what’s happening in California: Union officials representing cashiers, stockers and clerks at Ralphs — owned by Kroger— and employees at Albertsons and its Vons and Pavilion chains have been negotiating new three-year contracts with the companies since their contracts expired in March.

California workers at more than 500 stores are demanding higher pay and a contract that protects their retirement and health benefits.

Talks between the companies and union leaders representing more than 500 stores in the region are ongoing. But some Ralphs workers in recent weeks have started to protest outside local stores to raise pressure on the company.

Next week, workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers will begin voting on whether to approve Kroger and Albertsons’ latest contract proposals. If workers reject the contracts, they will then vote on whether to authorize a strike. Workers approved a strike after a previous contract was voted down in June.

This would not be the first strike by California grocery workers. In 2003, more than 70,000 workers at 859 stores in the state walked picket lines for nearly five months.

“They need to open up a little bit and give us a little bit more piece of that pie that we deserve because we’re the ones in the trenches doing all the work,” said Jaime Escarcega, a Ralphs cashier in Riverside, California, who has worked at the chain for 14 years. “We feel like we’re coming up short.”

He makes $21 an hour, but his wages have not risen in five years. He hopes a new contract will help him and his co-workers keep pace with California’s cost of living increases. Prices in California are rising nearly twice as fast as the rest of the country, according to the Labor Department.

“We’re on the front lines. We work in the stores. We’re pulling in the money,” Escarcega said. “We’re not being taken care of so that’s why we’re here.”

Escarcega said that going on a strike would be a “last resort” for employees, but that “everybody wants to speak up and get what we deserve.”

Grocery workers often have more leverage in negotiations with employers than other retail workers because groceries are perishable and companies can ill-afford work slowdowns, experts say.

A spokesperson for Ralphs said the company’s contract proposal would invest an additional $108 million toward increased wages, health care and pension benefits, a significant improvement over most Fortune 500 companies and non-union grocers.

Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions “remain committed” to reaching an agreement with workers that “includes good wages, maintains their affordable health care and provides for their retirement,” a spokesperson for Albertsons said.

America’s empowered labor movement

A grocery workers’ strike in California would come at a moment when a growing number of Americans are walking off the job. About 485,000 workers were involved in major work stoppages last year, the highest number since 1986, according to the Labor Department.

Worker action in California would also come as support for unions in the United States nears a 50-year high, according to recent Gallup polling.

More workers are pressing their employers because of concerns about income inequality, wage stagnation, sexual harassment in the workplace and automation.

That same sentiment is driving new activism among grocery employees, according to Thomas Kochan, director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research.

A California strike would be the second major work stoppage in the grocery industry this year. In April, 31,000 Stop & Shop workers at 240 stores in New England walked off their jobs for 10 days.

That campaign, led by the United Food and Commercial Workers, drew support from Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. The workers declared victory after Stop & Shop’s parent company, the Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize, agreed to increase wages and protect employees’ health care.

California unions are emboldened by the Stop & Shop strike, high-profile teachers’ strikes around the country and the possibility of attracting Democratic candidates’ support, said Steven Greenhouse, a former labor reporter at The New York Times and the author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present & Future of American Labor.”

“Labor was fairly dead in the water three, four, five years ago. Then, boom, suddenly these huge teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona,” he said. “Successful strikes beget other strikes.”

Union workers in grocery stores

A grocery strike in California would be a rare work stoppage in retail.

Only 4.5% of America’s retail workers belonged to a union in 2018, according to the Department of Labor. The rate is below the 6.4% union membership rate for private-sector workers.

Walmart has more than 1.5 million US employees and Target has 360,000 workers. None of them are unionized. Walmart, born in Arkansas during the 1960s, fought hard to prevent unions from organizing workers as it swept across America.

“Big-box stores were predicated on being low paid, non-union, and hostile to unionized department stores,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “When they expanded into groceries, they kept their anti-union posture, made easy by shifts in law and politics in the late 20th century.”

Organizing workers in retail — an industry defined by high turnover rates and part-time employees — has been difficult for unions.

“When you have a lot of part-time workers who don’t know their rights, who are kind of precarious workers worried that they might get laid off if they support a union, it’s hard,” said Greenhouse, the former labor reporter.

Grocery workers are an exception, however. The majority of Kroger’s approximately 453,000 employees belong to unions, while 63% of Albertsons 267,000 workers are union members, according to filings.

Supermarket workers, especially butchers, organized in the early and mid-20th century before the rise of big-box stores, according to labor experts.

“Supermarkets came long before big box general merchandise stores,” said Lichtenstein. “Retail trade unions were able to organize them when law, culture, politics and managerial practices were more favorable to unions.”

Grocery operators historically operate at low profit margins, and grocers like Kroger and Albertsons face higher costs than non-union discount retailers. Grocers are also getting squeezed by the rise of low-cost union-free competitors such as Aldi and Dollar General.

Union grocers “really feel tremendous pressure,” said Greenhouse. “They’re fighting to remain competitive while making their workers happy.”

Developments in California may have ramifications for other grocery stores, too.

Some 20,000 employees at Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Safeway in Oregon and Washington represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers recently voted to authorize a strike.

Source: CNN Business

In challenge to CVS, Walmart to pilot healthcare store concept

  • Walmart next month will open a “Walmart Health center” in its Dallas, Georgia, store, a company spokesperson confirmed to Retail Dive in an email.
  • “Walmart is committed to making healthcare more affordable and accessible for customers in the communities we serve,” the spokesperson said. “The new Walmart Health center in our Dallas, Georgia, store will provide low, transparent pricing for key health services for local customers. We look forward to sharing more details when the facility opens next month.”
  • Walmart already runs healthcare clinics in several stores in some Southern states. But the new Georgia location, which is taking appointments starting Sept. 13, will add services like dental, mental health counseling, X-rays and audiology, according to a report from CNBC.

Walmart has long been a healthcare provider beyond its pharmacy operations, running healthcare clinics in several stores. Services (which range in price from $59 to $99 per visit without insurance and also accept a number of insurance plans), include primary care, treatment of illnesses and injuries, management of ongoing conditions, physicals and wellness checks, and lab tests and immunizations, according to Walmart’s website.

The retail giant now appears to be expanding that, positioning itself against CVS Health, which recently announced plans to expand its “Health Hub” pilot to 1,500 locations by the end of 2021 (and has acquired health insurer Aetna).

American consumers are increasingly faced with difficult insurance and care options, making the market poised for possible disruption. Walmart is positioned to take advantage of that by offering more integrated healthcare.

“It’s evident to both inside- and outside-sector players that traditional healthcare delivery organizations are missing the mark,” Michael Abrams, Managing Partner of global healthcare consulting firm Numerof & Associates, told Retail Dive in an email. “Being the largest U.S. employer, Walmart’s decision to move into this space holds tremendous potential for its workers and its patrons, especially those for whom care is expensive, inefficient and difficult to access.”

In fact, Walmart has reportedly been mulling some sort of expanded play for a while. Last year the company was said to be considering two major acquisitions in the space — of online pharmacy site PillPack and health insurance giant Humana, though neither transpired. Amazon ultimately grabbed PillPack. But Senior Vice President of Health and Wellness Sean Slovenski did join Walmart from Humana last summer and is leading the current changes, according to CNBC’s report.

But Walmart also faces competition in the space, as others also look at the opportunity. Malls are adding clinics to occupy space abandoned by retail tenants, for example. Even electronics retailer Best Buy found a way into the market with its acquisition last year of health and safety solutions company GreatCall, which has turned out to be a lucrative move.

Source: Retail Dive

What could be final contract talks resume for grocery execs, UFCW

What could be the final act in a five-month drama began Wednesday, Sept. 4 as executives from Southern California’s major grocery chains and union leaders sat down to discuss a new labor deal for some 60,000 workers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers has said it wants to hear the best and final offer from Albertson, Ralphs, Vons and Pavilions. The union then will take the contract offer to its members and decide whether to call a strike.

Both sides on Wednesday said they are preparing for a potential walkout. A union spokesman said he was in the process of helping members assemble picket signs.

A spokesman for Ralphs said the company is currently lining up replacement workers in case UFCW workers walk off their jobs in the coming days.

John Votava, Ralphs director of corporate affairs, said in an emailed statement that regardless of the outcome, the chain will continue to keep the stores’ shelves stocked and have enough workers to serve shoppers.

“Recruiting (replacement workers) is not something we want to do, but we must do so we can continue to serve our communities if a labor dispute occurs,” Votava wrote in the statement.

Albertsons spokesperson Melissa Hill said in a phone interview that the chain is not recruiting replacement workers and currently has no plan to do so. Albertsons’ corporate operations also cover the Vons and Pavilions chains, which are owned by hedge fund Cerberus Capital Management.

The two sides have been in negotiations since early March. The union’s seven locals have scheduled membership meetings for Monday, following the final day of talks. It will then make recommendations to the rank-and-file.

The last strike in Southern California was in 2003 and 2004 and lasted more than four months.

Mike Shimpock, spokesman for Local 770, which represents Los Angeles County and Central Coast workers, said the union is meeting with its picket captains and its hardship committees, which would help people pushed to economic strife amid a strike.

“The problem is, we shouldn’t need to be getting ready for a strike,” Shimpock said. “But since 2003, we always seem to get to this point, and now we have to force the issue.”

Source: The Press Enterprise