The Herald - Everett, Wash. - www.HeraldNet.com

Published: Saturday, July 14, 2007

GUEST COMMENTARY

Grocery Workers Deserve Share of Success

Published: Saturday, July 14, 2007

By George Keller

If you shop at a Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC or Albertson's, you probably noticed the yard signs saying "Share the Success" posted on the lawn outside your grocery store recently. We're the workers of these national grocery chains and we're currently in contract negotiations. Employers need to share the success with us - and with our communities.

We're among the more than 20,000 United Food and Commercial Workers in Puget Sound who make a living in these stores - or, who are trying to. I have served Everett grocery shoppers for more than 30 years at Safeway. And I can tell you, it's getting tougher to make ends meet on the money we make. Over the years, we've watched these stores transform from locally owned businesses with a solid focus on great customer service, into large hugely profitable national corporations.

Last year, Safeway, Albertson's and Kroger's (Fred Meyer and QFC) made a combined $8.3 billion in profits nationally. In our region, they hold 80 percent of the market share. They're spending millions on store remodels and on new stores and acquisitions. They can afford to assure those of us who helped earn those profits a reasonable increase in pay. They can afford to help us manage escalating health care costs and they can afford to use scheduling practices that support raising a family.

We know the CEOs make millions, have stock options and use a company jet for personal use. We know shareholders take home bundles of money. We have no problem with profits that are hard earned. We do, however, have a problem with the fact that we shared the work and don't get a fair share of the success.

Sharing the success would mean that, as workers of these profitable chains, we could afford the groceries we sell. I've seen co-workers leave the store during lunch hour and go down to the local food bank because they couldn't afford to buy lunch at the store.

I've seen co-workers lose their jobs when a prolonged illness meant they lost their place on the schedule. Even healthy workers have a hard time getting enough hours to make a living. Because the stores want to save money by cutting hours, the average work week for grocery workers in Puget Sound is 26 hours.

Sharing the success means we can call in sick without losing a day's pay; it means we can make a parent-teacher conference without getting our hours cut and our incomes reduced because of callous scheduling practices.

There's a growing trend in the retail business that claims tremendous profits for those at the top without respecting the worker's contribution. We see it in the large box stores like Wal-Mart and we're now seeing it in our own stores. These practices are harmful to us, to our families and to our communities.

When our wages don't meet the cost of living and we're struggling every day to make ends meet, we know we're one health care crisis from bankruptcy. When you go month after month robbing Peter to pay Paul, you can't save for the kid's college, for retirement or even to make the rising rent.

We continually hear how the cost of living is going up. It's a scary feeling that you're being priced out of the middle class. Why are these profitable national chains allowed to turn our hard work into their profits at our expense? The only answer to that question is because we let them.

This time around, we have a powerful voice. Every bargaining day, I travel down I-5 and join the UFCW bargaining team at the table. You have no idea how enlightening it is to see representatives of these national chains face to face and hear what they have to say.

I'm among 20 UFCW grocery workers at the table and we've given our employers fair proposals for health care, wages and pension issues. We're fighting hard to get a fair deal during this contract negotiation. But we're finding it tough to get these profitable chains to share the success.

So, stay tuned. And next time you come to see us at the store, tell the worker behind the cash register that you're behind them.

George Keller, a father and grandfather, is a grocery worker in Everett for Safeway. He's worked in the industry for over 30 years.

2007 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA

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