LAKEWOOD, Calif. — Southern California grocery workers and community supporters held a rally Thursday at a Ralphs grocery in Lakewood to oppose the planned $24.6 billion merger of supermarket giants Kroger and Albertsons.

The plan is facing increasing opposition from workers who say it will reduce competition, shutter neighborhood grocery stores, hike food prices and put more than 5,700 employees out of work.

Under the proposed agreement, Cincinnati-based Kroger would acquire Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons in a transaction that would join the nation’s two largest supermarket retailers.

Pending approval by the Federal Trade Commission, the merger isn’t expected to happen until 2024. The two companies are already considering a sell-off of 250 to 300 stores to address regulatory concerns, according to a recent report from Reuters.

Albertsons owns Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores throughout Southern California, while Kroger owns Ralphs and Food 4 less supermarkets. Employees from both companies are represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers union.

A massive footprint

When the merger agreement was announced Oct. 14, 2022, the two grocery chains collectively employed more than 710,000 workers at 4,996 stores, 66 distribution centers, 52 manufacturing plants, 3,972 pharmacies and 2,015 fuel centers.

“Economists have estimated that as many as 400 stores could close because of overlaps and 5,750 employees would lose their jobs,” said Judy Wood, who works as a cake decorator at an Albertsons in the city of Orange. “Money is the only motivation for these corporations.”

Thursday’s “Stop the Merger” rally at a Ralphs supermarket in Lakewood was part of a week of action where grocery workers from seven UFCW local unions – representing more than 100,000 Kroger and Albertsons workers in 11 states and the District of Columbia – will rally in front of grocery stores to speak out against the proposed merger.

State Assemblyman Josh Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) was among the supporters at Thursday’s rally at a Ralphs supermarket in Lakewood.

“I have serious concerns with the proposed mega merger and the impacts it will have on our community,” Lowenthal said. “We already hear stories of working families struggling to put food on their families’ plates. Reducing competition may exacerbate that struggle.”

UFCW Local 324 President Andrea Zinder said it’s critical that they remain strong and united to protect workers, customers, food suppliers and local communities from “the disastrous effects of this merger.”

“Losing good jobs affects all areas of our communities, lowers the standard of living for all workers and destroys cities,” Zinder said in a statement. “Customers who already pinch pennies to afford groceries for their families will see even higher prices at the checkout stand.”

Worker food insecurity

A Jan. 11 report survey of 37,000 Kroger grocery store workers from Economic Roundtable found that 78% said they were “food insecure,” meaning they run out of food before the end of the month, skip meals and are sometimes hungry.

Forty-four percent of employees polled said they are unable to pay for rent and 14% said are homeless now or have been in the past year.

Wood, who has worked for Albertsons for 36 years, said many employees at the Orange store have seen their hours cut.

“We have employees who really want to do their best, but when you take hours away it makes it hard to do what they’re supposed to do,” she said. “Jobs don’t get done, and then the supervisors complain.”

Steve Manzanares, a grocery clerk at the Ralphs in Lakewood, said employees are working amid the constant fear they will be laid off.

“The more than 80 workers at my Ralphs should not be worried about losing their jobs, feeding their families or supporting our communities because of this merger,” he said. “And our customers shouldn’t be worrying about affording to feed their families when prices rise because of this merger.”

Three-quarters of the Kroger workers surveyed for the Economic Rountable said there aren’t enough employees at their stores to complete assigned work, impacting workplace security, food handling safety and staff protection from COVID-19 impacts.

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