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2 out of 3 Kroger workers in Southern California struggle to afford food and housing, survey finds

Jaimie Ding, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

The report was released ahead of upcoming negotiations between Kroger and the UFCW union, as the contract for roughly 33,000 workers in Southern California expires March 6. It called for an increase in the minimum pay for workers, doubling the share of workers with full-time jobs and adding worker-elected positions to the company's board of directors to represent unionized employees, among other recommendations.

Negotiations have not gone smoothly as contracts expire in a number of regions in the country. Kroger workers in Oregon went on strike for a day in December 2021 before an agreement was reached. Workers in Houston authorized a strike a month before that but returned to the negotiating table before initiating it.

"Ralphs is committed to negotiating and reaching an agreement that significantly invests in our associates by putting more money in their pocket while maintaining affordable healthcare and a stable pension for retirement — a benefit that 93% of corporations no longer provide to their associates," Votava said.

Kroger has previously pushed back aggressively against mandates by the city of Long Beach and L.A. requiring temporary $5-an-hour pay boosts for grocery workers amid the pandemic. In March 2021, the company closed

three grocery stores in L.A., citing the "hero pay" mandate as a factor.

Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the retail consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, said grocery stores are "caught in in the proverbial crossfire of higher taxes from the county and the state, higher prices for their operating licenses and higher operating costs."

 

Flickinger also pointed to revenue loss from retail theft, blaming Proposition 47, a 2014 voter-approved law that raised the minimum for charging property theft as a felony to $950 worth of merchandise.

Grocery outlets have pushed to increase penalties on shoplifting, with a 2020 survey by the National Retail Federation finding that theft was at an all-time high. The trade group said theft cost the industry $61.7 billion in fiscal year 2019, equal to 1.6% of retailers' profits. The percentage stayed the same in 2021.

At a local level, property crime in Los Angeles is up 2.6% from last year, according to Los Angeles Police Department data published Nov. 27, but down 6.6% from 2019. The category that includes shoplifting — "personal/other theft" per LAPD — is down 32% from 2019.

Grocery stores have fared well during the pandemic as people have been eating more meals at home.

The country's three largest grocery providers, Walmart, Kroger and Albertsons, earned an additional $6.8 billion in profit in the first three quarters of 2020 compared to 2019 — an average increase of 98%, according to a Brookings Institution report.

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