UFCW Western States Council has released a report written by Saru Jayaraman and the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and researched by Professor Chris Benner and the Food Chain Workers Alliance from the University of California, Davis. The report is titled, Shelved: How Wages and Working Conditions for California’s Food Retail Workers Have Declined as the Industry has Thrived, and the full report can be read here. The release of the report by the UFCW Western States Council is part of its ongoing effort for legislation that will push large grocers to be more responsible and give more money back to the workers who have made the industry thrive.
Key findings in the report include:
Declining Wages and Rising Poverty: As the Industry Grows, Paychecks Shrink
While California retail food employment has grown in the past decade, food retail workers’ wages have declined. According to Census data, in 2010 dollars, median hourly wages of grocery store workers – the largest segment of food retail workers – fell from $12.97 in 1999 to $11.33 in 2010, a decline of 12.6%. Moreover, the proportion of food retail workers earning poverty wages increased dramatically, from 43% in 1999 to 54% in 2010.
Pervasive Hunger: Grocery Workers Can’t Afford Enough to Eat
In surveys, workers reported a dramatic result of the wage decline described above: they now suffer double the rate of “low” and “very low” food security as the general U.S. population. In other words, workers who sell food in California, the largest producer of food in the U.S., are twice as likely as the general populace to be unable to afford sufficient quantities of the food they sell or the healthy kinds of food their families need, despite the financial health of the food retail industry.
Race Still Matters: Racial Inequities in Workers’ Treatment on the Job
Racial inequities also play a significant role in determining food retail workers’ wages and working conditions, especially in Los Angeles County, California’s most populous county. The differential between workers of color (specifically Latinos and Blacks) and whites was fully 3 to 5 times greater in Los Angeles than in the statewide workforce with regard to workers being sent home early with no pay, having a shift canceled on the same day it is scheduled, not being offered a lunch break, and not being paid for all hours worked.
Investors Before Workers: “Financialization” Drives Standards Down
More than half of the decline in union market share is attributable to the closings of stores belonging to a single chain, Albertsons, where significant indebtedness resulting from an ill-conceived 2006 merger reduced the company’s ability to invest in its store infrastructure or maintain competitive pricing. Also, union decline by market segment occurred almost entirely in traditional groceries while non-union growth occurred almost entirely in discount/general merchandise stores and natural/ organic/gourmet markets. Over the same period of wage and union decline (2000 to 2010), high wage, partially unionized employer Costco gained 2.5% in market share, making it California’s single largest food retailer, with 13.3% market share statewide.