Wal-Mart, Driving Workers and Supermarkets Crazy
But not everyone is rejoicing about Wal-Mart’s five-year plan to open 40 supercenters in California, stores combining general merchandise and groceries that are expected to gobble up $3.2 billion in sales. California’s three largest supermarket chains, Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons, are scared, and so are tens of thousands of supermarket workers whose union contracts have put them solidly in the middle class. The three grocers’ fears of fierce competition from Wal-Mart and their related drive to cut costs are widely seen as the main reason behind the week-old strike by 70,000 workers at 859 supermarkets in Southern California.
Wal-Mart has already helped push more than two dozen national supermarket chains into bankruptcy over the past decade. That list includes names like Grand Union; Bruno’s, once Alabama’s largest supermarket chain; and Homeland Stores, formerly Oklahoma’s largest. And unionized supermarket workers fear that Wal-Mart’s invasion will oust them from the middle class by pulling down their wages and benefits, which, taken together, are more than 50 percent higher than those of Wal-Mart workers. At Wal-Mart, the average wage is about $8.50 an hour, compared with $13 at unionized supermarkets.
“Wal-Mart’s superstores are going to have a devastating impact on California’s supermarkets,” said Burt Flickinger III, a retailing consultant, noting that union wages and prices are higher in California than in most of the country.
**Those employees now pay no health insurance premiums, while Wal-Mart employees often must pay premiums of $200 a month and deductibles of up to $1,000 a year, if they qualify. **