Council poised to approve rules protecting grocery workers

Council poised to approve rules protecting grocery workers

Michele Ellson
Alameda City Council

Alameda’s City Council appears set to sign off on a new ordinance requiring companies purchasing large grocery stores to retain workers for at least 90 days if the stores’ ownership changes.

Council members expressed unanimous support Tuesday night for a proposed ordinance requiring stores over 15,000 square feet to post ownership changes and retain workers for 90 days after a sale or transfer takes place.

Proposed by City Councilman Jim Oddie, the ordinance is modeled on a 2005 ordinance passed by Los Angeles lawmakers that survived a state Supreme Court challenge and has also been adopted by San Francisco, Santa Monica and Gardena.

“I think the 90-day period is a good backstop for people in these current economic times,” Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese said.

Mike Henneberry, a Planning Board member whose day job is as communications and political director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, said local shoppers and grocery workers have so far been lucky that the Island’s grocery stores and workers have survived a series of store ownership changes. But they don’t have any guarantees they will keep those jobs if additional ownership changes occur, he said.

“The fact remains that when a new owner takes over, they have a unilateral right to keep any employee or terminate them for any reason or for no reason,” Henneberry said.

Workers lost their jobs when the Chestnut-Encinal market was sold to a new owner, he said, though that store would likely not have been covered by the proposed ordinance.

But Tim James of the California Grocers Association the ordinance could scare away grocers who may have otherwise sought to buy or build stores here.

“I think the challenge that we’re looking at, and the issue I think Alameda should look at (is), does this disincentivize grocery stores from buying other grocers, or create a barrier, so they do not move in,” James said.

About a half dozen grocery workers attended Tuesday night’s council meeting in support of the ordinance, though none spoke.

Henneberry expressed a concern that the notably anti-union discount retailer Walmart could take over existing stores, jeopardizing existing workers’ jobs if the ordinance wasn’t approved, while James said approving it could turn grocery stores into karate studios and other non-retail outfits.

Council members sided with Henneberry, offering their support for the proposal.

“I think that this brings balance in regards to maintaining the safety of the food supply for 90 days, and it allows the current workers to continue having a job,” Mayor Trish Spencer said. “To me it’s not an undue hardship (to grocers), because it’s a 90-day period.”

Henneberry asked council members to lower the size of stores to be covered by the ordinance to 10,000 square feet, a move Oddie backed but one other council members said they couldn’t support out of concern they could face a fresh legal challenge.

Alameda is home to a dozen grocery stores, and the new rules would cover five of those. As written, the ordinance covers Alameda’s Safeway, Lucky’s and Nob Hill grocery stores. If the ordinance had been amended, it would also include Trader Joe’s and Encinal Market.

Cerberus Capital Management bought Albertsons, the company that owned Lucky, in 2013. A year later it purchased Safeway for $9 billion, with plans to merge it with Albertson’s. Nob Hill is owned by Raley’s.

If okayed, the ordinance will go into effect 30 days after the council approves it.

Comments

Submitted by MP (not verified) on Wed, Apr 22, 2015

Maybe my reading of the ordinance is off, but it seems to apply only where one grocer buys a currently operating grocery store (or company with a store in Alameda) directly from the owner. The definition of “Change in control” is the most unclear. Even assuming it applies to a situation where Grocer A (Lucky?) sells to non-grocer, property investor B with the intent that it be transferred to Grocer C, would it also apply where B and C are in agreement, but B does not tell A that the purpose is to sell to C? (Among other things, assuming A is truly ignorant of B’s later intentions, A would not know that a “change in control” has occurred, that notice is required, or what to put in the notice re the identity of the “successor grocery employer”). It also seems not to apply where A makes a business decision to close its Alameda store (assuming that this constitutes a “grocery store that goes out of business”) and then put the property on the market. The workers at A would likely be entitled to WARN Act notices before closure and there would be rights under the collective bargaining agreement with A. While the proposed ordinance would make it potentially less attractive for one grocer to make a sweet offer to another profitably operating grocer, it seems not to cover the more likely scenario of one grocer deciding to close a store and putting the property (or the lease) on the market.

Submitted by BMac (not verified) on Wed, Apr 22, 2015

" “I think that this brings balance in regards to maintaining the safety of the food supply for 90 days, ". --- safety of the food supply, LMAO

Submitted by frank on Wed, Apr 22, 2015

Lucky's is owned by Save-Mart in Northern California and NV. Not by Cerberus Capital Management which did first buy Albertson's and now Safeway.