Last night local retail employers, policy experts, community and union leaders debated the issues faced by grocery store employees and grocery store operators in a recovering economy. The discussion was moderated by Mimi Rosenberg of WBAI's Building Bridges, and tackled the ways in which successful grocery businesses can also be community-leading employers.
Retail jobs are the fastest growing industry in the country. To enable the growing numbers employed in retail to achieve the American Dream, workers and customers alike are beginning to push back against the Walmart business model that’s driven down wages, benefits and standards of living for workers and communities nationwide.
Upper East Side market Agata & Valentina employees shared how they are struggling to attain the American Dream. Agata & Valentina worker Alfredo Pena said, “For me, a union means a voice for workers on the job. It means we don’t have to ask the boss for things like a raise individually, because we can stand together and have more power to improve our jobs that way.”
Pathmark employee and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1500 member Ann Marie Griffin spoke about the benefits of having a union at her workplace. “If it were not for the health insurance I receive as a union member,” she said, “I would not have been able to have two c-sections that I needed. And because I am a union member my salary has increased over the years. I know that others at non-union stores who are doing the same work I do, for the same amount of years, they may not even come close to what I make.”
Business leaders at the roundtable discussed how the union-employer partnership works well to improve their business. Charles Farfaglia, Fairway Market LLC, Vice President of Human Resources, said that having the UFCW working with his company helps with problem-solving, creates lower turnover rates, and gives employees a sense of security and stability that helps them better perform their jobs.
“When employees are given an unfettered choice, they view working in a union store as desirable,” he said. “That actually helps in recruiting new people. Fairway opened a store in Paramus, NJ, last March. We conducted seven job fairs…and many people asked if the store was going to be union. All who asked wanted to work in a union store.”
Also on the panel were: Rene Flores, Gristedes Foods, Executive Director of Human Resources and Asset Management; Dr. Nicholas Freudenberg, City University of New York, Distinguished Professor of Public Health; UFCW Local 1500 Field Director Rob Newell; and Paul Sonn, National Employment Law Project, Legal Co-Director.