L.A. Studies Impact of Supermarkets

The Los Angeles City Council has ordered a study on the impact that changes in the grocery industry are having on the city, its economy and its residents. A City Council spokesman told SN the impact report will be completed within the next few weeks. It comes as the three major grocery chains in the area Kroger-owned Ralphs, Safeway-owned Vons and Supervalu-owned Albertsons are in the midst of

LOS ANGELES — The City Council here has ordered a study on the impact that changes in the grocery industry are having on the city, its economy and its residents.

A City Council spokesman told SN the impact report will be completed within the next few weeks. It comes as the three major grocery chains in the area — Kroger-owned Ralphs, Safeway-owned Vons and Supervalu-owned Albertsons — are in the midst of negotiations on a new labor contract.

The pending report follows a series of recommendations by a commission that asked the three major chains to end the two-tier wage and benefit system; to “behave as responsible merchants” by providing affordable, quality health benefits to all employees; to locate stores in underserved neighborhoods; and to maintain consistent standards for quality throughout the city.

There were also recommendations asking industry and city leaders to address the redlining of low-income and minority communities by the grocery chains; calling on city leaders to institute policies that make certain every resident has access to quality and healthy food options and to wages and benefits that can support them; and asking city leaders to work “to ensure that the grocery industry respects its workers and our communities by providing quality jobs, allowing employees the right to organize and hiring from the local community.”

“As the primary source of food and a major source of jobs, the grocery industry is the lifeblood of our communities,” the commission report said. “The choices made by supermarket executives have deep consequences for the community's physical and economic health.

“[But] the direction the industry is moving is at odds with our shared desire to build healthy communities.”

The commission said its findings were based on testimony at public hearings from health care experts, academics, community leaders and supermarket workers; industry officials declined to attend, the commission said.

The information the commission gathered raised major concerns about the industry, the report notes. “The grocery industry is at a crossroads, and civic and industry leaders need to take action to prevent the ‘Wal-Martization’ of this industry,” the commission said.

“While the major chains are clearly profitable, they are not serving the needs of residents for healthy food options. Meanwhile, their employees, who once held middle-class jobs, must increasingly struggle to meet their basic needs, including the need for affordable health care.”

The commission was formed at the urging of the Los Angeles Grocery Worker and Community Health Coalition, an amalgam of community, labor and faith-based organizations.

SKIMPY BENEFITS

In an introduction to the report, a bishop and a rabbi wrote, “Many of the chain grocery stores that once were a source of middle-class jobs are now providing low wages and skimpy benefits. Many parts of our city do not have adequate access to grocery stores that provide healthy food at affordable prices. These conditions negatively affect the health of our communities.

“What [the commission] found was distressing and shocking … Those who testified described a two-tier system, both for the workers employed in the grocery stores and for the communities those stores either serve or neglect.

“We hope this report can be a building block for a better future for the grocery industry and for the health of all the communities that make up Los Angeles.”

In a press conference, members of the Grocery Worker and Community Health Coalition charged the major chains with breaking their promise after the 1992 riots here to build stores in lower-income areas of the city. The group also urged the City Council to adopt a policy opposing redlining.