Since the centerpiece of the holiday is gathering with friends and family around a big turkey dinner with all the fixings, this week is extremely busy for grocery stores. Everybody’s running in and out trying to pick up all the ingredients they need for Thursday’s big meal and it can be hard to keep things running efficiently. This is especially the case as Turkey Day recipes often require ingredients customers aren’t used to searching for and, on occasion, might get a little frustrated with trying to make sure they have everything.
While all of this is happening, there are workers at the store working extremely hard to keep the shelves stocked and the building’s clean so everybody can have a pleasant experience when they come in to do their shopping. They unfortunately do all this while often not receiving much appreciation from customers and not nearly enough pay to get by in Northern Virginia communities.
Their low wages come at a time when the corporate offices are demanding stores cut hours in order to help keep their payroll low. When you consider how workers already aren’t getting paid much per hour, having hours cut makes their struggle to pay the bills even harder and can often have a devastating impact on families. Far too often, it actually means employees can’t even afford to buy the basic groceries they’re putting on the shelves.
In addition to the staffing hours being reduced at stores, workers are extremely worried about Safeway’s new corporate owners potentially doing away with the pension program — or at least drastically reducing the benefits that workers have earned through years of working with the company. Considering how unions often accept a lower wage for hourly workers during negotiations to help ensure a pension is fully funded, this move could have a significant long term impact on folks even though the corporation is bringing in billions of dollars worth of profits every year.
It’s not just the workers’ paychecks that are being impacted here as the reduction in hours means there’s not enough staff time for all the work to get done. This eventually results in the stores not being cleaned properly, which is rather worrisome when you consider it’s where the public’s food supply is being stored. It also simply means there aren’t as many staff members available to help customers, which can make it difficult to get the assistance you might need — especially on a crowded day when you’re looking for that missing ingredient for grandma’s pumpkin pie.
With all that in mind, members of UFCW Local 400 have been heading into negotiations with Safeway and Giant grocery stores to get a fair contract. They’ve been mounting a public awareness campaign recently and had a long list of stores here in NoVA they were protesting outside of yesterday and on Sunday the 24th. The goal of the protest was to take advantage of the increased foot traffic and let the public know about the fight for a fair contract.
It’s not just the UFCW that’s been active in the visibility effort as several other unions and progressive organizations have had volunteers show up in solidarity help. The Northern Virginia Labor Council even “adopted” one local Giant store where it turned out its members and affiliates. On top of that, elected officials like Delegate-elect Dan Helmer and Senator Jennifer Boysko have even shown up to lend their support.
“I ran because I am concerned about economic justice for people who don’t always have a seat at the table,” Sen. Boysko said when she joined workers outside a Safeway in Leesburg. “My own mother was a single mom who suffered through wage theft and minimum wage jobs where she barely was able to put food on the table for my brothers and me. We can do better in Virginia and in the United States. And it’s our responsibility to stand up and stand with the workers who are doing the tough jobs.”
So as you’re heading into grocery stores to grab any last minute supplies needed for Thanksgiving, remember the struggle the workers are going through and try to show them some solidarity.