A new report by the University of California, Berkeley Food Labor Research Center's Saru Jayaraman and UC Davis professor Chris Benner ties the state's growing number of grocery industry workers receiving public assistance to declining wages within the industry.
The report involved interviews with 925 people employed by supermarket chains, ethnic markets and big box operators such as Walmart and Target. It found that roughly one in three people working in the industry is receiving some type of assistance and that one in five rations their food.
The research, which was commissioned by the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, found the median wage at unionized stores fell from $19.38 in 2000 to $15.17 an hour in 2012. The median wage for non-union workers was below $10. Company profits grew an average of two percent a year during the same period.
"The grocery industry was once seen as a reliable source for middle-class jobs in this state — workers could buy a house, put their kids through college, retire with a comfortable income," said Jim Araby, executive director for the UFCW's Western States Council, in a statement. "That these things are no longer possible, and low-wage workers are being squeezed to the point of seeking out public assistance even as their employers grow richer, points to a broader problem in our state."
The report calls for support for unions and living wage public policies as a two-pronged approach to reversing the current situation.
Do you agree or disagree that more support is needed for grocery worker unions to assure a fair living wage for employees?