Union: History is doomed to repeat itself if Kroger-Albertsons merger happens

Jan 26, 2024, 6:14 PM | Updated: 6:41 pm

kroger albertsons merger...

Unionized grocery store workers rally to oppose the proposed merger between Kroger and Albertsons outside a Ralph's supermarket. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images)

(Photo: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images)

The union for thousands of Western Washington grocery store workers said history is doomed to repeat itself if Kroger, which operates Fred Meyer and QFC stores, is allowed to merge with Albertsons, which also operates Safeway stores.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) pointed to Albertsons’ acquisition of Safeway. To ease anti-trust concerns, Safeway and Albertsons agreed to sell 146 stores to Haggen in late 2014. Haggen only owned 18 stores at the time. By September 2015, Haggen filed for bankruptcy.

More on the potential merger: Kroger, Albertsons selling QFC brand name, over 400 stores in $1.9B deal

As part of the Kroger and Albertsons merger, the companies plan to sell 413 stores to C&S Wholesale Grocers. Multiple brand names also would be transferred to C&S in the deal, including the QFC brand.

John Marshall, the UFCW’s union capital strategies director, said union leaders have met with C&S.

“I’ll just say, in terms of the meeting with C&S, those meetings did not resolve our very serious concerns,” Marshall said, comparing it to the ill-fated Haggen purchase.

Marshall said C&S owns and operates 23 grocery stores and just one pharmacy.

But, in a statement to KIRO Newsradio, C&S Vice President of Communications Lauren La Bruno said, including its franchise operations, the company operates 160 grocery stores.

“C&S’ strong operational focus and deep financial resources will position it to successfully operate and continue to grow and create healthier communities for years to come,” La Bruno stated.

‘Leverage to bargain would go away’

But even if C&S remains a strong competitor, the combined Kroger and Albertsons stores would be a force to reckon with.

“Kroger and Albertsons currently control over half the grocery sales in the state of Washington,” Marshall said.

Right now, the union negotiates separately with the still competing Kroger and Albertsons stores.

“That leverage to bargain would go away if these two largest unionized grocery store chains — in the U.S. — were allowed to merge,” Washington UFCW President Faye Guenther said, emphasizing the point by, again, pointing to the Albertsons acquisition of Safeway.

“Investors and corporations made a lot of money, and I, along with a lot of coworkers, made less,” longtime Colorado Safeway worker Tom Olson said, who claimed he was relocated and moved from a manager position to a lower-paying job as a clerk after the acquisition. “That’s how it worked. We still have major problems with staffing, safety and security. Beyond that, it’s just not as fun anymore.”

Kroger responds

In a statement, Kroger called the merger “inherently pro-union and we have the track record to prove it.”

“Kroger added more than 100,000 good-paying union jobs since 2012 and invested $1.9 billion to grow associate wages and industry-leading, comprehensive benefits since 2018,” the company said in a prepared statement.

More from Heather Bosch: Kroger-Albertson merger ‘bad’ for consumers, AG’s office says

UFCW said those wages and benefits were all negotiated at the bargaining table with the union. Kroger pushed further, claiming that opposing the merger would be anti-union.

“Opposing the merger only serves to further strengthen larger, non-unionized retailers like Walmart and Amazon, who continue to grow unchecked,” Kroger continued.

Kroger and Albertsons have consistently argued that the grocery chains need to combine forces to compete with Walmart and Amazon. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is still reviewing whether or not to allow the merger.

The Washington State Office of the Attorney General has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop it, claiming the merger will lead to fewer choices and higher prices for consumers. Kroger and Albertsons have stated the merger is taking longer than anticipated, but they expect the deal to close within the first half of Kroger’s 2024 fiscal year.

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Union: History is doomed to repeat itself if Kroger-Albertsons merger happens