When Dylan’s grocery delivery arrived a few days before New Years, it came with some bad news. The delivery driver who brought his groceries from Vons mentioned that drivers across the state are getting fired by Vons, Pavilions, and other California stores owned by Albertsons Companies in late February. Stores will instead turn to a third-party delivery service using independent contractors.
“I was disturbed and disappointed that Vons would eliminate these jobs. I felt like they were the only remaining company that treated delivery drivers ethically but no longer,” said Dylan.
After publication, an Albertsons representative sent the following statement: “We will transition that portion of our eCommerce operations to third-party logistics providers.” She added “While we know that this move will help us create a more efficient operation, it wasn’t a decision we made lightly or without a great deal of consideration.”
Drivers under the Albertsons Companies umbrella are employees, while Ralphs delivery is operated by Instacart and Target uses Shipt, a similar app. At Bay Area stores, drivers are unionized, and will not be affected by the layoffs. For southern California shoppers, this move leaves them without a grocery delivery option that treats drivers as employees.
Unions are vowing to fight the change, says Jim Araby, Director of Strategic Campaigns at UCFW5. “The only drivers that kept their jobs were the unionized drivers in the Bay Area. All the other drivers in California were laid off because they were non-union. We represent those drivers and they will keep their job.”
These layoffs are unsurprising after the passage of Proposition 22, which gutted worker protections while making it easier for companies to shift financial burdens onto newly-designated “independent contractors.” In a piece for KNOCK last year, Keith F. Eberl predicted this exact outcome in the opening paragraph:
“Contrary to the companies’ deceptive ad campaign and intimidating messages to their workers, Prop 22 does not preserve driver flexibility or save drivers from politicians. What Prop 22 does do is change current law so the companies can shift their costs to the driver and diminish or remove drivers’ rights, protections, and benefits. Prop 22 will also block drivers’ ability to organize so they can’t collectively bargain a contract. In addition, this proposition will block local governments from writing or enforcing protections for drivers.”
The only surprise is the speed at which Albertsons reversed course on its commitments to workers. This move comes after nearly a year of celebrating grocery store workers for feeding communities. Earlier this year, Albertsons Companies President & CEO Vivek Sankaran said the company was “taking care of our team.” Albertsons Companies “are working… to ensure that every member of our team who faces a crisis can have peace of mind that we will help them get through it.”
Albertsons was happy to reap public goodwill during the pandemic. But once Prop 22 gave the company the option of replacing workers with lower-paid contractors, they jumped at the opportunity. Employees received notice during the holidays that their employment would end one month into the new year.
Early in the pandemic, union members demanded hazard pay, additional medical leave, and employee protections during the pandemic. In March, Safeway and Northern California grocery workers reached an agreement providing these additional benefits.
Labor and management were able to cooperate in April, requesting that grocery workers be designated as first responders. In an April joint statement, Sankaran and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) President Marc Perrone wrote:
“This joint action is an example of how all Americans must work together to protect everyone working on the frontlines. This includes… associates at our nation’s grocery stores who are providing communities with the essential food and supplies needed to weather this public health crisis.”
Negotiations in October turned contentious, as members of the Teamsters issued a notice of potential strike due to rising healthcare costs. Lou Villavazo, who chairs the bargaining effort, told the Orange County Register that “employers have been bargaining in bad faith. We’ve had over 18 bargaining sessions with them and we provided our economic proposal … but no response.”
Organized labor made the difference for drivers in the Bay Area, who will remain as employees for now. But without the power of a union, southern California drivers lack an organizational structure through which to fight back.
Many, myself included, turned to Vons and Albertsons stores for their groceries, knowing that drivers were employed with benefits. Unionized drivers offered a clear alternative to the hellscape of gig-economy apps like Instacart.
In a March 2020 statement, Sankaran said “these times are unprecedented in the grocery industry… [a] simple ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem like quite enough.” He was right. Delivery drivers deserve healthcare, job protections, and fair wages. Workers won those fights this year because they fought as a union. With DoorDash taking over in February, that united front will be gone.
You can contact Albertsons Companies and let them know what you think of this move:
Vons Retail Store/Corporate Phone Number: 877–723–3929
Albertsons Retail Store/Corporate Phone Number: 877–723–3929
EDITOR’S NOTE: After publication, Albertson’s responded to KNOCK’s request for comment. This piece has since been edited to clarify that union drivers will not be laid off and that workers facing layoffs in Southern California are non-union, as well as to include statements from both Albertsons and UCFW5. The scheduled date of the layoffs was also corrected.