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April 28, 2020

New coronavirus report reveals 72 deaths, 5,000 directly impacted among UFCW membership

Today, on Workers Memorial Day, the UFCW released a new update on the growing number of frontline workers who have been exposed, sick, and died from COVID-19. As these numbers continue to rise, we are calling on our country’s leaders to take immediate action.

UFCW Local 338 members at A&J Foodtown in Bellerose took two minutes of reflection this Workers Memorial Day to honor those lost serving their community during the COVID-19 crisis throughout the country.

According to the UFCW’s internal reports, there have been at least 72 worker deaths and 5,322 workers directly impacted among the UFCW’s 1.3 million members who work in grocery, retail, pharmacy, meatpacking, and other essential industries.

Those directly impacted include workers who tested positive for COVID-19, missed work due to self-quarantine, are awaiting test results, or have been hospitalized, and/or are symptomatic.

“These workers never signed up to be first responders in an emergency, but that is exactly what they are now and they need protections immediately before more lives are needlessly lost,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “The human cost to America’s food, retail, and commercial workers is real and growing.”

“As we remember all of America’s brave frontline workers, across every industry, who have died from COVID-19, we are calling on all of our country’s leaders in the White House, in Congress, and states across the country to strengthen safety standards and take immediate action to protect the millions of workers who are keeping our communities strong throughout the crisis.”

April 9, 2020

What the UFCW is asking the CDC to do in response to the coronavirus

During the coronavirus outbreak, employers, reporters, customers and community groups have been turning to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for guidance on what the government recommended actions are to curb the spread of COVID-19. Yesterday, the UFCW sent a letter to the CDC with our recommendations for safety measures that should be taken in grocery stores, pharmacies, and food packing and processing facilities.

This guidance is based on both the advice of health and safety experts as well as needs we have heard echoed from hard working UFCW members across the country who desperately need better protections in place in order to continue to serve the American public.

“It is absolutely critical that the CDC do more to help protect frontline workers who are at daily risk of  becoming infected and even dying from the Coronavirus,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone. “This is about not just saving the lives of these workers, but also about protecting the customers they serve. It is about protecting and maintaining the safety of our food supply. Keeping these workers safe will help keep America safe. The CDC must act now to issue strong new safety guidance. American lives are on the line. These workers’ lives are on the line. We cannot wait any longer.”

If you are a UFCW member and you are experiencing problems where you work because of COVID-19, please submit a report to us so we can continue to track what is happening across the country.


Grocery Stores and Pharmacies

In-Store Social Distancing

  • Limit the number of consumers in a store at any given time to 20 to 30 percent of the store’s capacity.
  • Implement procedures to ensure that both employees and customers always remain at least six feet apart.
  • Procedures should include a marked “social distancing line” which begins six feet away from all checkout counters.

Improve Disinfecting, Sanitizing & Hygiene Practices

  • Employees must be provided with sufficient break times to wash their hands as necessary or, at a minimum, every 30 minutes.
  • Sanitize frequent touchpoints, including point of sale terminals at registers throughout the day.
  • Provide disinfecting wipes for customers to disinfect carts, as well as at cash registers.
  • Designate employee(s) to ensure cleaning guidelines set by the CDC are followed.
  • Provide set time to allow for stores to be properly sanitized and re-stocked.

Mandate Wearing of Personal Protective Equipment

  • Mandate that all workers wear masks, gloves, and any other personal protective equipment (PPE) available at the workplace.
  • Mandate all employers to provide N95 masks, gloves, and other PPE when it becomes available.

Urge Americans to Help Save Lives by Shopping Smart

Call on all Americans to practice the following each time they visit a grocery store or pharmacy:

    • Always wear a cloth face cover, ideally a mask, when inside the store.
    • Limit number of shoppers to one per family
    • Practice social distancing throughout the store – not just at check-out stands.
    • Properly discard their own PPE in trash cans.
    • Respect special shopping times for seniors.

Food Processing and Packing Plants

Improve Safety Conditions

  • Mandate that all employers provide PPE, and that workers wear PPE during the workday.
  • Ensure social distancing practices are implemented across the workplace at all times where possible.
  • When social distancing is not possible, PPE must be provided and used by all employees. No exceptions.
  • Make sure that safety practices are clearly posted throughout facility and are in the necessary languages for employees to read.
  • Provide PPEs for workers, including face masks.

Learn more at

UFCW & COVID 19

March 22, 2020

Rite Aid employees to receive emergency pay increase

Rite Aid announced they have agreed to give their workers an emergency pay increase of $2 an hour and will also raise their employee discount from 20% to 35% so they can shop for essentials.

Everyday companies across the nation are proving they can afford pay increases. Add your name and demand emergency pay increases for all essential workers here.

Sign the Petition

March 3, 2020

More Zara workers choosing to go union through UFCW

This month, Zara workers in Cherry Hill and Freehold, N.J., chose to start a union at their work by joining UFCW Local 888. UFCW Local 888 represents over 250 New Jersey Zara workers.

Zara union workers chose to join UFCW Local 888 because of the UFCW’s leadership as the top retail union in the country representing the men and women in the retail industry. As one of the top retail unions, UFCW organizers were able to connect with these workers about the most important issues they face every day at their workplace, including scheduling and paid time off, and help them build a strategic plan to make lasting improvements.

Often times workers may face issues at their store that they do not realized are tied to larger, company or industry-wide problems. When workers are isolated, they are left to deal with these issues on their own, and may put up with less than they deserve if they believe they are the only ones impacted. Being part of a union helps connect the dots and make it possible to tackle systemic issues head on.

Zara is a global retail company specializing in clothing, accessories, shoes, swimwear, beauty, and perfumes. It is the largest company in the Inditex group, the world’s largest apparel retailer.

Twenty-nine million Americans work in the retail industry, making it the largest private sector-employer in the economy. According to The National Retail Federation, retail supports 42 million jobs and represents $2.6 trillion of annual GDP in the United States. Retail workers who contribute so much to our economy should have good wages and benefits they can build their lives around. The UFCW is committed to a better life for Zara workers, and for all hard working men and women.

“We are excited to welcome Zara Cherry Hill and Freehold to the Local 888 family and we are looking forward to working with all six stores in securing a strong UFCW contract,” said UFCW Local 888 President Max Bruny.

December 25, 2019

Thank you for all your hard work

Thank you for your hard work and all the sacrifices you make—especially during the holiday season.

You, and all of our 1.3 million UFCW members, make a real difference in the lives of countless numbers of families all across your communities.

From grocery and retail to food processing and health care, you help make the holiday season joyous for this entire nation.

And in case you ever doubt it, the community you serve every day truly appreciates your hard work, too.

 

October 7, 2019

Good customer service is especially vital during shifts in retail technology

National Customer Service Week was first championed by the International Customer Service Association (ICSA) in 1984. It was proclaimed a national event by Congress in 1992 and is celebrated each year during the first full week of October. This year, we celebrate the value of the customer service work UFCW members do in grocery stores, pharmacies, retail outlets, and a wide range of other workplaces by taking a look at how good customer service has remained key to a business’s success despite a century of technological advances.

John Kressaty, who was President of the ICSA when the week began, said “There are two main purposes of National Customer Service Week. It lets you recognize the job that your customer service professionals do 52 weeks a year. The other purpose is to get the message across a wide range of business, government and industry that customer service is very important along with bottom line profit in running a business.”

Today, customer service is more important than ever. According to Forbes, “Today, 89% of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience – up from just 36% in 2010.“ As one of the cornerstones of customer experience, customer service is not just an old-fashioned idea that “the customer is always right,” but is what sets companies apart and helps them stand out in a field of ever-evolving retail technology.

Everything old is a new again

In the beginning of the 20th century, grocery shopping looked very different than it does today. Rather than scour the aisles themselves, customers would hand the grocery clerk a list of the items they were looking for, and the worker would go get the items while the customer waited. But all that changed in 1916 when Clarence Saunders opened the first self-service grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, in Memphis, Tennessee. The new model was advertised as offering more freedom and choice for the customer.

Old magazine ad for Piggly Wiggly with a woman shopping that reads "Now she is free to choose for herself"A century later, the same concept of “freedom” to do it yourself has been used to sell other technologies like self-checkout where the customer is expected to do the work that was once done by an employee. And in-store grocery pickup options at places like Kroger, where you can order your groceries online and then an employee will do the shopping for you, aren’t so much a new, revolutionary idea in the industry as they are a return to the way grocery shopping used to work.

Today in Memphis, new technologies are still being tested. Dynasty Brown, a UFCW Local 1529 member, works at Kroger #405 as a picker, one of the workers who shops on a customer’s behalf when the online orders come in. “I like taking the orders out and seeing the smiles on customers faces,” says Brown. A hundred years of progress in technology haven’t changed workers’ pride in providing good customer service, nor shoppers’ appreciation of someone who goes the extra mile for them.

Good technology vs. bad customer experience

As anyone who has ever stood helpless at a self-checkout while it yelled at them about an “unknown item in the baggage area” knows, the “freedom” to do the work yourself isn’t always so free feeling.

A recent article in Gizmodo, “Why Self-Checkout Is and Has Always Been the Worst,” does a pretty great job articulating the difference between good and bad technology, namely that bad technology is the stuff that gets rammed down our throats that no one really wants but we are stuck putting up with anyway:

“For every automated appliance or system that actually makes performing a task easier—dishwashers, ATMs, robotic factory arms, say—there seems to be another one—self-checkout kiosks, automated phone menus, mass email marketing—that actively makes our lives worse.

Nobody likes wading through an interminable phone menu to try to address a suspect charge on a phone bill—literally, everyone would rather speak with a customer service rep. But that’s the system we’re stuck with because a corporation decided that the inconvenience to the user is well worth the savings in labor costs.”

But as the article goes on to point out, the promised savings on labor costs for trading out real customer service is often just a long-con by the folks selling the machines.

Customers have been rejecting full automation since 1937

Though the announcement of Amazon Go, Amazon’s grocery store model intended to allow shoppers to enter and exit the store without having to make a single human interaction with anyone, made a big splash when it was announced, the first fully-automated self-service grocery store, Keedoozle, was actually opened in 1937 by the same man who started Piggly Wiggly. Unlike Piggly Wiggly, which still operates today (and where many UFCW members work), Keedoozle was a miserable failure.

Items were kept in separate glass cases so as to be easily seen and never handled. Entering customers received an aluminum “key” with a roll of ticker tape attached. They shopped the product windows as they pleased, slipping their key into slots in the displays and pressing buttons that punched Morse code-like data about their desired products. At the checkout, a shopper handed her key to the clerk, who simultaneously rung up the receipt and transmitted the key’s record to a backroom. There, workers bundled orders and sent them out to customers via conveyer belt. ‘It can’t miss. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever had,’ Saunders told Time magazine. –Americans Have Been Cursing at Automated Checkouts Since 1937

Black and white photo of a woman shopping at KeedoozleOnly it did miss, hard. The last Keedoozle closed in 1949. Saunders wasn’t deterred and went back to work to find even more ways to eliminate more jobs within the grocery store, this time by using an early computer in place of a cashier. Saunders died before the concept got off the ground.

The invisible human labor behind automation

Data & Society’s report, “The Labor of Integrating New Technologies,” finds that rather than replacing jobs, the role out of new shopping technology actually relies heavily on skilled customer service abilities of workers, but those efforts are often invisible and not compensated:

“We find that retail experiments, like self-checkout or customer-operated scanners, tend to rely on humans to smooth out technology’s rough edges. In other words, the “success” of technologies like self-checkout machines is in large part produced by the human effort necessary to maintain the technologies, from guiding confused customers through the checkout process to fixing the machines when they breakdown to quite literally searching for customers aisle by aisle when GPS systems fail. The impact of these retail technologies has generally not been one of replacing human labor. Rather, they enable employers to place greater pressures on frontline workers to absorb the frontline risks and consequences of cost cutting experiments. Much of the work that employees must do on the ground to facilitate new systems is often invisible and undervalued, even as popular perceptions of automation frame these roles as increasingly obsolete.”

The report even points out that senior employees are often needed with advanced skills in “diffusing anger” to help customers navigate new systems and all the bugs that come along with them. But in all the conversations about new technology, this work is swept to the side and seen as exceptional rather than an integral part of both roll out and continued function of self-service technologies.

The report lines up with first-hand accounts from UFCW members who work in stores where new technologies like Kroger’s Scan, Bag, Go program have been tested. Scan, Bag, Go allows shoppers to use scanners they carry around the store with them to scan products as they shop. Edith Peck, a UFCW Local 1529 member who has worked at Kroger in Memphis for the past nine years and who says providing good customer service is her favorite part of the job, says that for the most part, customers just ignore the scanners.

“I think this whole thing is Kroger’s scheme to eliminate employees to compete with automation, but at that point, why not shop at Walmart?” says Peck. “They need to understand good customer service is what is going to set us apart.”

Customer sentiment towards scan and go shopping is pretty clear in the Scan, Bag, Go app, which has a 1.9 star rating in the Google Play store. Reading the reviews paints a clear picture of why “diffusing anger” would be a skill needed to help transitioning customers.

Genuine interaction with cashiers makes us happier

Beyond just the importance to a business’s bottom line, when we talk about the elimination of customer service jobs, it’s also worth remembering to ask: what is it that we want our lives to look like?

A 2013 study, Is Efficiency Overrated?: Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect, found that that when people engage with cashiers in a genuine way (with a smile, eye contact, brief conversation, etc.), it lifts their mood and leads to an increased sense of belonging. Although people often report reluctance to have a genuine social interaction with a stranger, those interactions still are ultimately good for us. Surprise, just like exercise or eating healthier food, talking to strangers turns out to be a thing we don’t think we want but that makes our lives better when we go out and do it.

Are we comfortable with creating a society where we only interact with products and rarely with flesh and blood people? And given that the answer from most people is a resounding no, how can we effectively push back against technology and innovation that might cross that line while still embracing technology that does improve our lives? If we are so collectively stressed out that saving a few moments waiting in line at the checkout seems like a good trade for someone’s job or our own mental health, perhaps the solution isn’t in improving the efficiency of the shopping experience. Maybe it’s tackling why we’re all so stressed out to begin with.

In the meantime, thank you to all the hard-working UFCW members out there ready to help customers feel seen and appreciated in whatever ways they can, whether it’s service with a smile or repeatedly coming to our rescue at the self-checkout machines. We need you now more than ever.

 

September 12, 2019

Goodwill Workers Join Local 655 in St. Louis for a Better Life

On August 29, Goodwill Industries workers in St. Louis voted to join UFCW Local 655 for better wages and benefits. The 25 Goodwill employees work in the front and back of the store in check-out, stocking items, and collecting and storing donated items.

The workers joined our union family because they were concerned about low wages, insufficient benefits and workplace favoritism. UFCW Local 655 is focused on helping these workers build on this victory to organize workers at other Goodwill stores throughout the area.

“We could not be more proud to welcome Goodwill employees into the Local 655 family,” said UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook. “I look forward to helping them bargain the union contract that they deserve so that they can get the wages and benefits they have worked so hard for.”

July 11, 2019

Five things to know about Amazon on Prime Day

You may know Amazon Prime Day as an opportunity to score great deals for customers. This year Amazon has even included a live stream event featuring Taylor Swift to celebrate Prime Day. But here’s some things you need to know about Amazon before you put things in your cart.

1.

A typical order only takes about a minute of human labor for Amazon to select, box and ship.

At Amazon’s warehouse outside Baltimore, almost all of the work is done by robots or automated systems. At many facilities, “pickers” have to walk up and down long aisles to select items, but at the Baltimore facility, robots bring the shelves to the worker, who then picks out the items and puts them in a bin. The bins travel along the network of eight miles of conveyor belts to another worker who boxes the items.

“Jeff Bezos’s vision is clear – he wants to automate every good job out of existence, regardless of whether it’s at Whole Foods, Amazon warehouses, or competing retail and grocery stores,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone in a recent statement.

While some have argued that increased automation won’t impact overall job loss because new jobs will be created for those that are replaced, a 2017 study on automation in the United States found that between 1990 and 2007, one more robot per thousand workers reduced the employment to population ratio by about 0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25-0.5 percent. In other words, for all the fancy talk, in reality those jobs that went away didn’t come back and wages for remaining jobs fell. This had a dire impact on jobs in manufacturing, but with the retail industry as the largest employer in the United States, the future looks grim if elected leaders don’t wake up and start taking things seriously.


2.

Amazon’s plans for HQ2 will be the size of 57 football fields, possibly expanding to 133 football fields by the mid 2030s

The Seattle-based company has filed development plans with Arlington County, Virginia for the inaugural phase of its second headquarters, in Crystal City. Though they haven’t broken ground yet, the plans are already having a serious impact on the local housing market. As of June, the median home price in Arlington County was on track to spike 17.2 percent by the end of 2019, according to a report by the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, making it harder for working class residents to afford basic needs for their families.


3.

If Prime members had their own country, they’d be the 13th largest country in the world

With over 100 million Prime members and growing, Amazon has more subscribers than the entire population of most countries. With about 310 million people who live in the United States, 100 million would be a third of the US population.


4.

Seven workers have died in Amazon facilities since 2013

“Amazon workers suffer injuries – and sometimes lose their lives – in a work environment with a relentless demand to fill orders and close monitoring of employee actions,” states a 2018 report from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, who cited Amazon as one of their “dirty dozen” list of employers failing to correct known safety problems.

According to the report, two workers were crushed by forklifts, one was run over by a truck, one was killed by an SUV driver, one suffered a fatal heart-related event during an overnight shift, one was dragged and crushed by a conveyor belt, and one was killed and crushed by a pallet loader.


5.

Amazon produced a 45-minute anti-union training video for managers

When Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion dollars, it also sent out this 45-minute training video for Team Leaders at the grocery chain:

In it, it warns of employees talking about a “living wage,” and gives tips on how to talk negatively about unions without breaking the law, such as:

“You would never threaten to close your building just because associates joined a union. But you might need to talk about how having a union could hurt innovation which could hurt customer obsession which could ultimately threaten the building’s continued existence.”

The video also warns about workers taking an “unusual interest in policies, benefits, employee lists, or other company information.”

 

March 18, 2019

Should we be worried about dynamic pricing in retail?

Ever go to tell a family member or a friend about a great deal you found online, but when they go to buy it too, it’s no longer there? Or maybe it costs way more than you paid for the same thing?

While you got a great deal, what you’re experiencing is the phenomenon known as “dynamic pricing” or raising and lowering prices many times a day, a week or a month to drive sales but still ensure a consistent profit. This is often paired with what is called “personalized pricing” or “cohort pricing” where each shopper gets their own price for a product – what’s my price isn’t yours and vice versa. These are marketed to consumers as a benefit – deeper discounts just for you — but in the end, may actually end up benefiting the retailer at your expense.

One paper from MIT’s Sloan School says that “Implementing DP can improve revenues and profits by between 8% and 25%.”

So if everyone is saving, how are retailers making money? In the case of things like groceries, people tend to buy the same items over and over again. Since you’re not the only shopper, companies like Amazon sometimes charge one shopper triple what another one pays for the same item.

Companies are able to get away with doing this because as customers, we don’t actually have a single price we’re willing to pay, we have what’s called a “latitude of price acceptance.” That’s a band of prices—from a steal to a little pricey—that we’re willing pay for an item. According to McKinsey & Co., that price variance can be as much as 17% , which is a lot of extra money to be made if you move to the top of the band.

The Impact of Artificial Intelligence

While price fluctuations aren’t new and dynamic pricing has been around since the 1980s, having those changes determined by Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is uncharted territory. As retailers battle it out to find that exact pricing sweet spot that maximizes both sales and profits, evolving technology raises concerns about what the effects are on both consumers and smaller businesses when large companies like Amazon use AI and algorithms to enhance profitability with little oversight.

Data is King

AI-driven personalized pricing relies on tracking and retaining information on customer behavior. That means whoever has the most information on you has a competitive advantage over their rivals. Beyond the security and privacy concerns of big data, this also means that the playing field is tipped even further in the favor of large companies like Amazon, who reached over 100 million Prime members in the US in January.

According to Amazon’s Privacy Notice page, the retail giant collects and analyzes everything from purchase histories and products viewed or searched for to reviews, wish lists and length of visits to certain pages. This huge pool of data on its customers’ shopping habits can help Amazon better understand what shoppers are looking for, what they buy and what prices they are willing to pay. 

Increasingly, company leaders are recognizing that a dynamic pricing strategy supported by big data and artificial intelligence (AI) can help them gain a competitive pricing advantage over rivals. 

– Forbes

With deep insights into the personal preferences and online behavior of about a third of the US population, not even including the shoppers who are not Prime members, Amazon isn’t just a retailer, but a data company.

Pricing based on who you are

While the law prohibits assigning prices based on protected characteristics—like race or gender—personalized pricing is by its nature nontransparent, meaning you can’t see everyone’s prices. That means you may not know that women, for example, are charged more for the same item, because the only price you see is the artificially high one. If we know companies have information on your race or gender, and we also know the AI-driven dynamic pricing responds to your unique set of data and characteristics, how would anyone know if the law was being violated?

What comes next?

We don’t know—and we’re not sure anyone else does either. But we also believe that honesty and transparency are essential. Lawmakers should be wary of technology evolving faster than our laws, or the ability to enforce them, can keep up with, especially if that technology is skewed to benefit powerful retail industry players like Amazon.

March 1, 2019

UFCW president responds to Amazon’s newly announced grocery chain: “Our leaders need to stop fawning over Jeff Bezos”

A report today from the Wall Street Journal claims Amazon plans to open a new grocery US grocery chain that would be separate from Whole Foods, which was purchased by Amazon in 2017 for roughly $13.5 billion. According to the WSJ article:

Amazon.com is planning to open dozens of grocery stores in several major U.S. cities, according to people familiar with the matter, as the retail giant looks to broaden its reach in the food business. First grocery store in Los Angeles as early as the end of 2019. Amazon has already signed leases for at least 2 other grocery locations with openings planned for early next year, this person said.

The new stores would be distinct from the company’s upscale Whole Foods Market brand, though it is unclear whether the new grocery chain would carry the Amazon name.

Amazon is also exploring an acquisition strategy to widen the new supermarket brand by purchasing regional grocery chains with about a dozen stores under operation, one person said.

Amazon is now in talks to open grocery stores in shopping centers in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, the people familiar with the matter said.

While Amazon has already signed leases, that doesn’t guarantee it will open the grocery stores. Retailers sign contracts and then pull out or delay store openings if certain conditions aren’t met.

The new stores aren’t intended to compete directly with Whole Foods and will offer products at a lower price point, these people said. The new chain would offer a different variety of products than what is on the shelves at the more upscale Whole Foods stores.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone responded with the following statement warning of the dire impacts Amazon’s move to take over the grocery industry could have for everyday Americans:

“Make no mistake, Amazon’s new and ruthless supermarket strategy is its latest salvo bent on destroying good American jobs to enrich one billionaire – Jeff Bezos.

Amazon isn’t about providing better food or customer service, and it certainly is not about fair competition. Launching this grocery chain is an aggressive expansion of Amazon’s market power as it seeks to fundamentally change our country’s food retail and service economy while eliminating as many retail workers as possible.

It is time that Republicans and Democrats realize that Amazon’s predatory business model is wrong for this nation and will needlessly destroy millions of jobs in every state in this country. Our leaders need to stop fawning over Jeff Bezos’ wealth and wake up to the serious threat Amazon’s business model poses to consumers, the economy, and our society.”

The UFCW has been calling for more scrutiny to be given to Amazon’s impact on the grocery industry since their announcement of the Amazon Go stores in 2016.