Northwest grocery workers prepare to strike
Aug. 2 — “Are you aware that Fred Meyer pays $3.53 more per hour to male workers than to female workers?”
A United Steelworkers’ member posed this question to a Fred Meyer grocery store shopper. Shoppers were shocked and stopped to listen. Most took flyers showing the facts and figures, and many signed the petition demanding that Fred Meyer “Fix the Gap.”
The steelworker, who came by the store after putting in an 8-hour shift, and his co-writing partner (a retired meatcutter and member of Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400, were leafleting and petitioning in support of UFCW Local 555. The largest private sector union in Oregon, Local 555 represents nearly 25,000 retail grocery store workers in Oregon and southwest Washington. The local is in contract negotiations with Allied Employers, Inc., an owners group of Fred Meyer, QFC/Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons. While targeting Fred Meyer, the union believes that all chains in Allied Employers pay higher wages to men than women. “Whatever we can agree to that closes this gap for Fred Meyer will likely rectify any similar situations or patterns that may exist with other employers,” the union explained.
The “Gap” is evident at FM, where on Schedule B the average wage is $13.69 per hour and 68 percent are women, versus Schedule A, where the average wage is $17.20 per hour and 66 percent are men.
The two groups of workers in the same store, all doing essentially the same work — putting merchandise on shelves and providing customer service — are paid substantially different wages. When a worker applies for a job at Fred Meyer, they are assigned to a schedule. The worker has no choice.
But not only does FM discriminate against women with regard to wages, the older the woman is the more she is discriminated against. On average women (including those not on Schedule B) aged 24 and under make $1 an hour less than men; women 25-29 make $1.50 less; women 35-39 make $1.75 less. Women over 60 fare even worse — making an average of $2.25 an hour less than men their age. Union statistics show that men under 30 were twice as likely to get promotions as women under 30.
The major demand of Local 555 negotiators is to “Fix the Gap.” The union membership agrees. So far, 10,000 members in Portland voted overwhelmingly to strike in June if the owners do not meet their demands, which also include an hourly wage increase for all workers and improved health and welfare benefits. The other 15,000 workers in the region will participate in strike authorization votes between now and the end of August, when a final decision will be made.
While the owners cry poverty, the board of Kroger (also a major shareholder in Fred Meyer) just posted a 14 percent increase in stockholder dividends. (tinyurl.com/y6nh6pko)
The volunteers leafleting and petitioning in support of Local 555 were organized by Jobs with Justice, a labor support organization made up of Portland and Vancouver, Wash., area unions, community groups and political parties, including the Portland branch of Workers World Party.
All statistics about the workers are from ufcw555.org.