Labor Strife Reality

Oct 21, 2003
George Anderson

By George Anderson

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) strike in California and elsewhere continues on with seemingly little hope of a quick resolution.

Archie Fralin, a Kroger spokesperson in Roanoke, Va., summed up the chain’s position to the Associated Press. “Box stores are a very real threat,” he said. “Their lower
labor costs make it imperative for us to manage costs. That’s just a reality.”

In West Virginia where UFCW members are striking against Kroger, the grocery chain claims it pays its workers an average of $6 more an hour than Wal-Mart.

The UFCW, for its part, argues the chain’s are looking to lay the blame and the burden of their inability to compete more effectively against the likes of Wal-Mart on store employees.

Jim Lowthers, president, UFCW Local 400 in West Virginia told the AP, “All these companies make billions of dollars, and all they want to say is ‘Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart.’
They’ve joined together to say the only way to save is by reducing worker benefits. There’s no reason they can’t compete, profit and still take care of their employees.”

Moderator’s Comment: Play the arbitration game. What is a fair resolution to the current impasse between the grocery chains and the UFCW?

The grocery chains have a valid point about labor costs, so their concerns should not be dismissed out-of-hand.

It is disingenuous of the chains, however, to identify store labor costs as the cause of their inability to compete effectively against Wal-Mart. If the
grocers and Wal-Mart had identical store labor costs, the folks in Bentonville would still offer lower prices to consumers.

The supermarkets need to fundamentally change the way they do business if they wish to compete. If we were the UFCW, we’d want to know exactly how they
planned to do that before going to our membership and asking them to make a sacrifice.
Anderson – Moderator

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