Grocery store workers with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union on Tuesday voiced their opposition to the proposed merger of supermarket giants Kroger and Albertsons, claiming the merger will harm employees and customers alike ahead of a Senate subcommittee hearing on the proposed $24.6 billion deal.
Members of UFCW chapters representing 12 states and over 100,000 employees of the two grocery companies gathered for a press conference in Washington D.C. to express their concerns about the impact of the proposed merger. Kroger operates popular Colorado grocery stores including King Soopers and City Market, while Albertsons operates Safeway following a merger in 2015.
Faye Guenther, president of the UFCW Local 3000 chapter in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, said the union’s role is to ensure the employees’ concerns are front and center of merger discussions as big as what is proposed by Kroger and Albertsons.
“Our grocery store members have been on the front line during the pandemic (and) deemed essential, but often treated as disposable,” she said at the news conference. “Today, we are here to ensure grocery store workers are heard as it relates to the Kroger-Albertsons merger and the $4 billion dividend payout.”
Andres Becerril works at a King Soopers in Denver and is a member of the UFCW Local 7 chapter representing Colorado and Wyoming. He’s now a front-end supervisor after working for King Soopers for 12 years, and emphasized that grocery store workers show up to help families put food on the table regardless of the circumstances.
“During the last few years, many of us sacrificed our health, that of our families, and even our lives to get that job done. It’s because of this sacrifice that I’m here today,” Becerril said. “Like my fellow grocery workers, I’m scared of what this merger will mean for me as a worker and what happens to my job and hundreds and hundreds of local grocery stores are closed.”
Becerril also said the merger would create “a ripple effect” impacting grocery store employees and their families with lost wages, pension plans and health care coverage, as well as increased grocery prices. Some of the greatest impacts, he said, would be felt by rural communities like Durango, where – should the merger go through – Walmart and Kroger-Albertsons would control 90% of the market. The same two groups would control 70% or more of the market across 160 U.S. cities.
“We want and need both Kroger and Albertsons to thrive and be successful,” Becerril said. “They are important businesses that provide jobs, food and medicine for our communities and business for local suppliers. We just want them to thrive as separate entities and call the (Federal Trade Commission) to hear our concerns and stop the merger.”
Guenther said the union also opposes a proposed dividend payout that would distribute $4 billion to a select few Albertsons shareholders, including private equity groups. The union contacted Washington’s attorney general about the dividend payment, which led to a temporary restraining order on the $4 billion payment.
“We know $4 billion could be better used to make Albertsons stronger, lower prices for consumers, invest in store safety and pay higher wages and benefits to recruit and retain essential workers who keep our food and our supply safe,” Guenther said. “This dividend payout to a special few shareholders should be scrutinized as part of the total merger, and we believe it should be stopped permanently.”
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement to Newsline that his office’s need to review mergers threatening to Colorado consumers is a responsibility he takes seriously.
“At a time of rising food prices, the possibility of undue consolidation in the grocery business raises serious concerns particularly since King Soopers and Safeway have a large footprint in Colorado,” Weiser said in a statement. “My department and I will closely review the proposed merger between Kroger and Albertsons to ensure it does not harm consumers or workers.”
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing regarding the merger, where the companies as well as the union are expected to be present.