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President’s Message

Mickey

MICKEY KASPARIAN
President

Ethnic Supermarkets: A Huge Threat to Market Share

This year we are turning our focus to ethnic markets. They are often promoted as a fun family shopping experience where even the kids can have some fun. But there is a dark side to these stores.
More and more ethnic grocery stores and chains are popping up – particularly in Hispanic and Asian communities. However, many of these employers are exploiting their workforce.
Very few ethnic stores are union. And more likely than not, they don’t offer benefits and wages are low. These workers actually live in poverty.

Many of these stores don’t even follow state laws. And the laws are not policed so they are rarely enforced, which is a huge reason these workers need a strong union such as UFCW Local 135.
Non-union wages in ethnic markets lag in comparison to unionized markets with the majority of workers earning far less with no benefits. This also cuts into our current members’ market share.

In surveys by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, these workers now suffer double the rate of “low” and “very low” food security as the general U.S. population. In other words, workers who sell food in ethnic markets in California, the largest producer of food in the U.S., are twice as likely as the general populace to be unable to afford sufficient quantities of the food they sell or the healthy kinds of food their families need, despite the financial health of the food retail industry.

Other studies indicate that the growth of this low-wage model, similar to Walmart or Target, has created serious downward pressure on wages and working conditions industry-wide, and has shifted substantial costs onto taxpayers. Thirty-six percent of California food retail workers use some form of public assistance according to government data, for a total annual cost to the state of $662 million.

In 2013, according to an article in the Orange County Register, ethnic supermarkets were still a small piece of the entire grocery industry, but their growth has outpaced the rest of the industry.
Originally most ethnic stores were mom and pop stores. Now they’re becoming larger – mostly medium sized chains.

Ethnic markets in the U.S., revenue grew by 25 percent over the past 10 years, to nearly $28 billion, according to data from IBISWorld. That compares with two percent revenue growth for the supermarket industry as a whole during the same period, to almost $518 billion.

Revenue for these markets is expected to grow by 3.8 percent annually over the next few years, which is much faster than the overall industry.
So these stores can afford to treat their workers with dignity and respect. And at UFCW Local 135 we want to make sure they do it.