In the grocery industry, business is still booming as customers stock up to prepare more food at home, as they have since the beginning of the pandemic.

A healthy grocery industry is a positive thing for our members and their union, but it’s important to keep an eye on what the future of the industry may look like once COVID-19 is under control and everyday life starts to look more like it did before March 2020.

Will customers have a renewed appreciation for our members in the stores who remained on the front lines during this tense period? Those good feelings, coupled with a stronger desire to venture out in the world after months of isolation, could drive shoppers into stores and keep the industry strong.

On the other hand, customers may continue to be wary of close contact with others and choose to stay home. They may have developed new online grocery purchasing habits that become their preferred way of food shopping going forward.

Preparation pays

For their part, grocery companies are preparing for more online shopping and grocery delivery in the future. Kroger recently announced it will begin construction on a 200,000 square-foot fulfillment center in Phoenix that will open sometime in 2023 or later.

Although it will be a high-tech facility with digital interfaces and robotics, the company claims it will create an estimated 700 new jobs in its first five years.

That’s where our part begins. Just as grocery companies are preparing for the future, so must we prepare to represent the future of the grocery workforce.

No matter how customers choose to purchase their groceries in the coming years — whether in-store or online with at-home delivery or pickup — Local 99 will make sure the people who put food on our tables have good union jobs.

Taking action

As fulfillment centers and warehouses become more commonplace to serve the needs of online grocery shoppers, we intend to organize the workers in these facilities to ensure they are treated fairly, safety measures are respected and all of the other benefits that come with union membership are granted.

These changes to the grocery industry aren’t something in the future — the future is already here.

At the same time, we will protect the jobs of our members in stores. Their bravery and selflessness during this challenging era will never be forgotten, and we continue to fight for hazard pay, PPE and more.

Protecting our members in the stores and welcoming a new wave of members will make us a stronger, more unified group, ready to confront the future of the grocery industry and ensure that the workers who keep the industry moving are treated with dignity and respect.