There was a time, not all that long ago, when a supermarket job was seen as a turnstile to middle-class security, especially if the job was in a unit of the old Retail Clerks Union. Today, however, even that seemingly bedrock bridge to the American Dream is vanishing into thin air as massive retail hypermarkets and nonunion grocery stores knock down wages and job benefits. A survey released this month confirms the acceleration of this trend and identifies even more problems that lie ahead for California’s grocery workers.
Shelved: How Wages and Working Conditions for California’s Food Retail Workers Have Declined as the Industry Has Thrived, commissioned by the Retail Clerk’s successor, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, was conducted by Saru Jayaraman of the University of California, Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center. Her work here reveals a familiar pattern present among nearly all U.S.
To the sources of airborne diseases brought in from schools, hospitals and airliners, add a new threat: Thousands of low-paid food handlers who are compelled by economic circumstances to remain on the job even when they are ill. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Infected food workers cause about 70 percent of reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food.” The CDC’s recommendations for containment include, “Requiring sick food workers to stay home, and considering use of paid sick leave and on-call staffing, to support compliance.”
Yet many of these workers have no paid sick leave and, in some cases, have claimed they risk losing their jobs if they stay home with the flu or a cold. From Orange County to South and East Los Angeles, however, hundreds of workers at El Super, which is the largest grocery chain in California’s exploding Latino food market, are demanding their employer provide sick leave pay.
After spending more than $1.6 billion, Tesco, the world’s third- largest food retailer, has finally thrown in the towel and announced the closure of its Fresh & Easy stores. This move brings closure to the British company’s effort to establish a foothold in California’s highly competitive grocery industry. Many analysts believe this decision has been a long time coming, with Fresh & Easy stores never seeing the kind of market penetration that the U.K.-based giant expected from the chain. Investors cheered the December 5 announcement, but U.S. workers have reason to celebrate too — this marks the end of a five-year struggle with Tesco.
Like most new entrants into the grocery market field, Tesco planned to operate non-union. Indeed, a Tesco employee-relations director described the primary responsibilities of that job in an advertisement as “maintaining non-union status” and “union avoidance activities.” The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) sought to organize the company,