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Grocery workers get further support with growing pandemic demands

Grocery workers at Safeway and Albertsons stores across the state have new protections and support after negotiations between labor unions and the company.

Among them: an effort to to work with the state and federal government to treat them as first responders and set up a child care fund for them.

This and numerous other supports were agreed upon to help address work demands through the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

Washington state United Food and Commercial Workers and Teamster local unions announced the changes with Safeway/Albertsons on Tuesday.

UFCW 21, 367, 1439 and Teamsters 38 reached the understanding with Safeway/Albertsons.

The resolution provides:

•More flexibility for schedules to accommodate child care.

•A joint hiring hall to allow for more people to get work in the stores.

•Up to two weeks of pay for workers with COVID-19 or those required to self-quarantine, before needing to access sick leave and other paid leave.

•Expanded use of paid sick leave to cover child care.

Additionally, further discussions will take place on ways to meet child care needs, and to ensure employees do not lose eligibility for medical coverage or lose vacation accrual while on sick leave. Discussions also include temporarily allowing the employer to bring in extra help to serve the communities, provided the bargaining unit employees are first offered the hours, including overtime.

In addition, negotiations maintained any work done in the meat cutter classification will only be performed by those qualified and licensed — where necessary — to perform the work, the announcement said.

Source: Union-Bulletin.com

Walgreens to close 200 US stores

Walgreens plans to shutter 200 stores in the U.S. as the company pares back its locations in the U.K., the company said Tuesday.

Parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance earlier this year announced plans to shutter 200 stores in the U.K. and review its U.S. footprint.

The new store closures represent less than 3% of its 10,000 locations in the U.S., Walgreens said in a statement, adding that it anticipates “minimal disruption to customers and patients.” It said it anticipates retaining “the majority” of employees in other nearby locations.

Walgreens said it hopes to save $1.5 billion in annual expenses by fiscal 2022 in what it’s calling the “transformational cost management program.” Walgreens expects to record a $1.9 billion to $2.4 billion earnings hit related to real estate, severance and other costs, it said in a regulatory filing.

“As previously announced, we are undertaking a transformational cost management program to accelerate the ongoing transformation of our business, enable investments in key areas and to become a more efficient enterprise,” the company said in a statement.

A Walgreens spokesman said the company does not plan to release the complete list of store closures and declined to share any more details about which locations will close.

Analysts have long worried about the number of pharmacies in the U.S. In some cities, it seems Walgreens and CVS stores line nearly every block. Worsening the situation is the fact that consumers are shopping more online and less in stores.

Retailers have already shuttered thousands of stores as foot traffic dwindles. Drugstores have so far been largely spared. That could change as the companies’ sales of convenience items shrink and people start buying prescription drugs online.

The announcement marks Walgreens’ largest round of closures since 2015, when it also closed 200 stores. Its parent company, which bought 1,932 Rite Aid locations in 2018, has since closed 631 of those stores and plans to shutter another 119.

In May, CVS said it would close 46 underperforming stores. In June, CVS’ head of retail warned it will close unprofitable stores as it evaluates its 500 leases that come up for renewal every year.

Source: CNBC

Why suburban moms are delivering your groceries

At 6:30 a.m., four of five Gordon family members are roaming around their suburban Sacramento house — if you count only the humans. There are also four dogs, a bunny, a tortoise, chickens, ducks, goats and a not-so-miniature miniature pig named Squiggy.

Hilary Gordon is discussing the day’s schedule with her husband in the middle of wrapping a breakfast sandwich for their 14-year-old, checking on cereal for their 17-year-old and staring down their 11-year-old, who just realized he forgot to finish today’s math homework.

Having time like this with her family is a major reason that Gordon, 47, works as a shopper for the grocery delivery app Instacart in a suburb of Sacramento, Calif. “I find it fun. It gives me something to do. I’m not out spending money. And I love the flexibility,” she says.

Instacart is one of a slew of similar apps — DoorDash, Postmates, Shipt — paying tens of thousands of workers like Gordon to deliver packages, food or groceries to strangers. Similar to those who drive for ride-share apps Uber and Lyft, delivery workers can choose when to work. But they don’t have to invite strangers into their cars.

This draws women — often in their 40s and 50s — who now make up more than half the contractors working for major food delivery apps.

Instacart told NPR that more than 50% of people who shop for the app are women. DoorDash said women make up more than 50% of its “dashers” in rural and suburban areas and more than 60% in urban areas. Target’s Shipt declined to share this statistic. Postmates said an April survey of its workers showed 48% were female and 38% had a child at home.

Gordon and a half-dozen other women shared with NPR details of working for delivery apps, which painted a picture of the epitome of gig work: accessible but high intensity, with pay that’s quick but unpredictable and hours that are flexible but unreliable.

‘I will not work for free’

After splitting up school drop-offs with her husband, Gordon parks her Subaru SUV in a grocery store parking lot. Her Instacart shift today is 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. She’s got her shopping sneakers on and a fully charged phone — watching the screen for incoming grocery orders, which she will both shop for and deliver.

The first “batch,” as they call it, is a bust: $8 with no tip, for seven items, to be taken 4 miles. But the store is 8 miles away. Instacart says it pays 60 cents per mile for delivery to the customer, but it doesn’t pay for the drive to the store in the first place. The company explains that it can’t be sure that the worker, for example, isn’t doing a non-Instacart gig until they begin shopping.

Logging miles is a big cost of the job. Some days Gordon might drive 100 miles, filling up the tank at least once a day. For every order, she does quick math to calculate the gas expense. This $8 order doesn’t cut it. Gordon picks one of her canned responses to Instacart: “Pay too low. I will not work for free!”

But you can’t skip too many orders — the app will think you stopped working. Gordon gets a good one: eight items for $9.87 plus a promise of a $6 tip. But most importantly, it’s only 1.5 miles of driving. She can knock it out in about 20 minutes.

Shopping for other people is a bit like a scavenger hunt, except the app is timing you. You rush through the whole store, scanning every item that goes in the basket and messaging the customer with updates.

Gordon checks each bell pepper for blemishes, throws a Hail Mary on the ripeness of avocados, tells Instacart that “organic celery” is out of stock. The app suggests she grab “spring water” instead. Gordon laughs out loud.

After almost a year and a half with Instacart, Gordon says she still loves grocery shopping. And she especially loves meeting new people — chatting up store workers for help and playing with friendly pets she meets at customers’ homes.

‘Hopefully tomorrow is better’

Like a lot of gig workers, this is not a career that Gordon pictured for herself. She has two master’s degrees — in counseling and family therapy.

She worked as a therapist in other states, but a move to California required more classes and exams, right as her oldest was born. Gordon became a social worker, until she made the calculation familiar to many working women: Her job took up mornings and evenings, with a not-so-great salary.

A few years later, the recession hit. Her husband lost his job in finance. Their house value dropped. They’re still paying down the debt that stacked up. But now there’s also soccer, swim team, lacrosse, broken cleats, a junior prom dress, trips to look at colleges, AP exams, SAT tests and summer camp.

This rhythm is all too familiar for women doing app work. Gigs help cover some expenses of child and health care — an opportunity for side income on top of a steadier job, either the deliverer’s or their partner’s. Workers who do app-based jobs to supplement income form a growing cohort within the gig economy, says Shelly Steward of the Future of Work Initiative at the Aspen Institute.

Gig workers are often independent contractors who don’t get benefits like health insurance or sick leave. And when families piece together multiple jobs and gigs to make a living, “the system of workplace benefits that’s been in place does not adequately cover nearly as many workers,” Steward says.

Stacie Ballard, 43, pieces together work for at least seven apps while building her own business in Atlanta. She keeps a stack of T-shirts in her trunk — green for Instacart, green and white to walk dogs for Wag!, green and gray to deliver packages for Shipt — changing between gigs as she earns extra cash for her teenager’s graduation and other expenses.

All the things to consider

Ballard, like many women in the gig economy, works for apps part time. For one, hustling full time is exhausting. But also, hours can be hard to get.

On Instacart, available hourlong shifts get claimed within seconds, workers said. Part-time workers like Ballard and Lewkowitz often stalk the app all day, hoping to grab some.

Gordon is one of the Instacart regulars who get “early access” to a full week’s worth of shifts so she can get hours predictable and long enough to make the work worth it for her. But to qualify, she commits to doing this “gig” full time, because early access requires working at least 90 hours in three weeks or 25 hours over three weekends.

Instacart says it has announced a pilot of a new way to qualify, which would encourage good customer ratings instead of long hours.
Even for full-timers like Gordon, signing up for shifts is “anxiety inducing.” She describes frantic clicking on Sunday mornings, when the schedule opens, selecting all the hour slots before they get claimed, within minutes.

And after all that, as any gig worker knows, having more hours doesn’t ensure a huge paycheck bump. It might be a slow day, or long distances might make orders not worth the cost of gas. Workers also consider the less obvious costs of these jobs. Is the order too complicated and time consuming? Too heavy?

Once, Gordon accidentally accepted a Costco batch with 81 cases of water. She says Instacart told her she could do multiple trips, but she refused and had to return — and ultimately give up — the whole order. So today, Gordon is eagle-eyed, spotting 13 cases of water in an otherwise appealing $32 batch.

One final thing she always checks is whether she knows the delivery address. Many delivery workers keep a mental track of locations that require climbing stairs, like apartments without elevators. On Gordon’s mental list are also a house with the guy who greeted her in a robe, and an older man who pressured her into bringing his groceries inside and said he’d been tracking her.

And then there’s the matter of tipping. Orders from businesses are notorious for being large and lacking tips. Workers say they wish the apps more aggressively encouraged their users to tip. Instacart recently changed its tipping system and retroactively compensated workers after workers and labor advocates fought a policy that counted tips toward base payments that Instacart promised for deliveries — sometimes offsetting what Instacart paid out of its own pocket.

Today, Gordon delivered eight orders in 10 hours and made $133, before extra bumps for heavy orders and good reviews. Today was OK. There was one day when she made $50 in six hours. That wasn’t worth it. Gordon’s best day’s haul was $255 — when she worked almost 12 hours.

Source: NPR.org