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Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

(New York, NY) – This morning elected officials, labor and community leaders, and workers gathered to rally in support of an anticipated vote and passage of the Grocery Worker Retention Act (GWRA). The GWRA (Int 632-2015) provides for a ninety day transition period to eligible employees following a change in ownership of a grocery store. The transition period is a temporary protection for employees who may face unemployment through no fault of their own.

The grocery industry makes up a significant portion of New York City’s retail workforce with over 50,000 employees and roughly two-thirds of this workforce coming from immigrant labor. This industry, however, currently suffers from a volatile condition with the eminent merger, closing or the establishment of new ownership of our supermarkets jeopardizing the future of workers and the quality of life of countless communities.

The recent A&P bankruptcy has provided a vivid example of this, rippling through the city with 52 stores impacted throughout the five boroughs including subsidiary brands such as Pathmark, Waldbaum’s, Food Emporium, and Food Basics. Some stores have been closed, others sold or auctioned, or even transformed into non-supermarket entities.

The GWRA seeks to provide stability within the grocery industry, protecting workers rights and promoting retention while providing for a workforce experienced and knowledgeable in food preparation, health regulations and sanitation procedures. As such, the legislation will help to maintain safe and reliable service to families that depend on their local supermarkets for dietary and nutritional needs.

High worker retention rates are consistently associated with higher customer satisfaction. Experienced employees provide better service – they can find items more quickly, check out customers more efficiently, and provide culturally competent service.

Retention also keeps operating costs down, passing savings to communities. Turnover, from new training to lost productivity, costs the supermarket industry as a whole close to $5 billion a year. It is important that businesses are able to flourish, workers able to build careers, and communities able to access fresh groceries.

Supporters of the legislation offered statements of support for the bill’s passage:

“Today is a great day for thousands of hardworking men and women in our city’s grocery industry, as well as for the communities and families who rely on these workers for their nutritional needs. When we retain skilled workers to handle our groceries such as produce, poultry and meats, we help to ensure that proper food preparation, along with proper health and sanitation procedures, are observed,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor. “Through this legislation we are able to provide communities with stability that would otherwise not exist during grocery transitions. We have already seen the terrible impact that A&P’s bankruptcy had on families throughout the City, and we don’t want to see such again. I thank my colleagues at the Council, including Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Progressive Caucus, along with our labor and community supporters for their passionate advocacy and support of this legislation.” 

“Providing a transition period for grocery workers is a smart, considerate measure to allow workers an opportunity to seek new employment without relying on public assistance, as well as giving new ownership a time period to evaluate current employees and consider keeping them on staff, rather than blindly cleaning house,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. “I’d like to thank my colleague, Council Member Miller, for bringing this issue to the attention of the City Council and I encourage my colleagues to support this bill when it comes to the floor later today.” 

“The Grocery Workers Retention Act is a well thought out bill that creates an important transition period and will raise standards for vulnerable workers across the city’s grocery store industry, said Council Member Brad Lander. “The transition period called for in this bill gives workers a chance to organize when a store comes under new management, allowing workers a chance to recoup back pay, front pay, and even retain their jobs, or a window to find a new job if needed. We’ve been protecting building service workers in a similar way, right here in New York for over a decade, and cities across the country have already taken similar steps to protect grocery store employees. The GWRA is a key step to achieving much needed protections for workers facing highly uncertain times.” 

“Grocery workers who have worked faithfully for years, and sometimes decades, for their employers deserve respect and acknowledgment for their service. This important legislation will provide necessary protections for workers facing an uncertain future due to the increasing number of sales, mergers and imminent closures of supermarkets throughout our City. I thank Council Member Miller, advocates and grocery workers for leading the way in this effort to give thousands of New Yorkers valuable peace of mind in an uncertain time for the grocery industry,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. 

“Workers deserve to know their knowledge, experience, and service to the neighborhoods they live and work in matters,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “The passage of the Grocery Worker Retention Act provides working families with financial stability and ensures communities will continue to be served by an experienced workforce.” 

“Workers should not be blown away by the winds of change whenever corporate conglomerates decide to treat businesses like trading cards,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, sponsor of Int 1011, which would enact a transition period within the food service industry. “To avoid the sudden shocks brought on by new management, mergers or other changes in which workers have no say, we at the Council are standing up. No more sudden layoffs; no more mass firings. Its time to put an end to these cruel practices and support our workers.” 

“Providing displaced workers with a guaranteed transition period to sort out their affairs and plan for the future is good for families, businesses and our city. With a growing trend of mergers, restructuring, and rapid change in the grocery industry, it is critical that we act now to extend this common-sense protection to its workers. I am proud to join Council Member Miller and my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus in support of this important piece of legislation,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. 

“No worker should be thrown out on the street just because a supermarket changes ownership,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams. “Workers deserve dignity and fairness and that doesn’t change because there’s a new logo on the door. I thank Council Member Miller for his leadership on this issue.” 

“Too often our grocery store workers suffer immediate layoffs or sudden wage reductions when the businesses at which they are employed change ownership,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “Unemployment and underemployment regularly plague this industry which largely consists of recent immigrants struggling to make ends meet. I am pleased to join Council Member Miller in sponsoring the Grocery Workers Retention Act which will bring much needed protections to these hard working New Yorkers.” 

“Grocery store workers deserve more than to be thrown out like day-old bread,” said Council Member Rory I. Lancman. “With today’s vote, the Council helps workers and values them as the vital community members they are.” 

“Neighborhood groceries not only provide goods and services but exist as anchors for the communities in which they serve. When ownership changes arise, it makes sense to consider the consequences of new management on the handling of perishables and to discuss protections for the workers and customers absorbing the impact of these transitions,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal. “I’m grateful to Council Member Miller for raising these issues and exploring how to make this process work for all parties.” 

“Grocery stores often change ownership and when that happens workers can lose their jobs through no fault of their own.  Now, with this bill, workers will have a transition period where they would remain employed for 90 days if their store is purchased,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, UFCW. “New owners can’t just discard workers, some of whom may have worked for years at the store, in an effort to lower wages.  The bill also protects our communities by maintaining experienced staff that understand proper sanitation procedures and can maintain health standards.   It’s a common sense approach to bring some stability for workers, consumers and businesses. We thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member I. Daneek Miller for their leadership and the City Council for supporting this important piece of legislation.” 

“All too often when supermarkets change ownership, workers’ job security is uncertain at best,” said Bruce Both, President of UFCW Local 1500, New York State’s largest supermarket Union. “It is not fair to the workers or their communities, where union wages serve as economic anchors. I commend Councilman I. Daneek Miller, the Progressive Caucus and the entire New York City Council for passing legislation today to end this injustice and provide grocery workers in the City of New York with a 90-day window to showcase their skills and stabilize the transition for the community.” 

“Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW has seen firsthand how the Grocery Worker Retention Act can benefit the 50,000 workers employed in New York City’s grocery and food retail industry. Only a few short months ago, thousands of workers found themselves without jobs as their stores were sold due to the bankruptcy of the A&P Company. Many of the new owners refused to employ any of the workers in the stores that they acquired, leaving hundreds of long time A&P workers facing unemployment,” said John R. Durso, President of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW. “Grocery and food retail workers are a vital part of our neighborhoods. We applaud the City Council for taking necessary steps to expand displaced worker protections to the men and women working in the food retail industry, as well as providing stability to the communities in which they proudly serve.”

 

The GWRA would apply to grocery stores (or retailers with grocery departments) 10,000 square feet or larger excluding areas for storage, loading, food preparation, or eating. For perspective, this size is larger than three professional tennis courts combined and could serve to park roughly 100 midsized sedans. The legislation’s provisions apply only to workers who have worked a minimum average of eight hours a week and have been employed at the establishment for the previous six months.

The transitional retention period in the GWRA mirrors that of similar across the country such as in California (both San Francisco and Los Angeles); Providence, Rhode Island; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; among others. Right here in New York City such a law has existed for building service workers since 2002.

This legislation, introduced to the City Council on January 22nd, 2015, has since been endorsed by the Council’s Progressive Caucus in addition to RWDSU, RWDSU Local 338, UFCW Local 1500, The Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN), and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. Supporters also include Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change. The Grocery Worker Retention Act was initially heard in the Committee on Civil Service and Labor on September 25th, 2015.

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