Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas expresses support for workers during a really in Sacramento. (Courtesy photo)

Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles) joined grocery store workers from across California on May 17, who traveled to the State Capitol to rally in support of a suite of bills that would address the harmful effects of grocery mergers.

This comes on the heels of a proposed deal between Albertsons and Kroger – the nation’s two largest grocery store chains with an outsized presence in California – to ink a $24.6 billion merger.

“The astronomical cost to grocery workers of the proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger is a reminder that we have a responsibility to protect the communities we represent through public policy,” said Smallwood-Cuevas.

“That is why I am proud to author SB 725, which institutes a mandatory severance pay for workers who are laid off due to a grocery merger or acquisition. It sends a clear message that we will not allow grocery companies to enrich themselves on the backs of their employees.”

“In my 30-plus years in the grocery industry, I have seen firsthand how mergers can hurt workers, their families and local communities,” said Mark Ramos, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council and UFCW Local 1428.

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“Some lose their jobs, and those lucky enough to still have a job are often forced to travel long distances to work at a new store. Communities lose a reliable source of fresh food. California lawmakers must take action to protect grocery workers, pharmacy workers and the communities they serve by passing this important legislative package.”

The bill package contains three critical pieces of legislation:

  • SB 725 (Sen. Smallwood-Cuevas) – Safety Net for Grocery Workers Act

Requires a grocery establishment that conducts layoffs as a result of a merger or acquisition to provide workers with one-week severance pay for every year of service.

  • AB 853 (Asm. Maienschein) – Californians’ Right to Know on Essential Goods and Services

Requires grocery or drug-retail companies to provide 180 days notice in advance of finalizing a proposed merger and an impact report on wages, benefits, food access, and more.

  • AB 647 (Asm. Holden) – Grocery Worker Protection Act

Ensures workers keep their jobs and seniority in case of store closures due to a merger.

“Powerful grocery companies shouldn’t be able to finalize harmful merger deals behind closed doors,” said Assemblymember Brian Maienschein. “AB 853 gives workers much needed time to respond to a proposed merger or acquisition by requiring grocery companies to give six months notice, shining a light on deals that could cause harm to workers, their communities and small businesses.”

“As a 55-year-old less than two years from retirement, a grocery chain merger could completely upend my life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers,” said Robert Launius, a meat cutter for Gelson’s.

“When chains merge, stores close. Workers get laid off. We shouldn’t have to live in fear of losing our jobs. California must pass these bills to make sure workers like me aren’t caught in the crossfire of the next major grocery merger.”

“In the wake of a merger, corporate profits soar while workers suffer pay cuts and job loss, leaving workers struggling to pay for basic necessities, like food and rent,” said Christopher Sanchez, policy advocate for Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“Workers, who are the backbone of California’s economy, deserve a safety net to protect them from harmful mergers. Our communities deserve better than being left to suffer the consequences of a merger that will create food insecurity for many who already struggle to access nutritious food. The Legislature should waste no time in passing AB 853, AB 647 and SB 725.”

To clarify its intention and commitment to union jobs, Kroger issued the following statement to the L.A. Sentinel:

“The Kroger Family of Companies has been serving California, supporting local union jobs and investing in the community for 100 years. Kroger will not lay off any frontline associates or close any stores, distribution centers or manufacturing facilities as a result of this merger. Our proposed merger with Albertsons is about growing jobs and careers, and we expect the merger to create meaningful and measurable benefits for our associates.

“We will invest an additional $1 billion to increase wages and expand our industry-leading benefits starting on Day one following close, and we expect to provide new and exciting career growth opportunities for many associates. This commitment builds on our track record of supporting associates, including the incremental $1.9 billion we have invested in wages and comprehensive benefits since 2018.  The Kroger Family of Companies is one of America’s largest unionized workforces and this merger also secures the long-term future of union jobs by establishing a more competitive alternative to large, non-union retailers.”