Countywide

Unionized workers at Kingstowne Safeway protest potential grocery store merger

Local union members protested in front of the Kingstowne Safeway yesterday (Wednesday) in opposition to the proposed merger between grocery store conglomerates Kroger and Albertsons.

About 30 members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 marched near the front door of the Safeway at 5980 Kingstowne Towne Center. The local protest was part of a nationwide day action from a coalition of organizations hoping to stop Albertsons, which owns Safeway, from merging with Kroger, which owns Harris Teeter.

A protest was also held at a Safeway (1100 4th Street SW) in D.C.

“[The merger is] not only going to affect the stores and not only the workers at those stores and not only the customers of those stores, but this merger has the potential to impact everyone who shops for groceries in America,” UFCW Local 400 spokesperson Jonathan Williams told FFXnow. “It’s going to completely shift the grocery retail landscape and we think for the worse.”

The protest was to draw attention to the potential downsides of the merger, ask the public to pressure the Federal Trade Commission to not approve it, and to distribute free, reusable grocery bags.

The merger could mean increased food costs, fewer options, and lower sale prices for farmers, critics say.

The $25 billion agreement to merge the country’s two largest grocery store chains was first announced last October. The timeline for when the deal will be approved — or rejected — is not immediately clear, but it was reported earlier this year that it could be a long process.

UFCW Local 400 represents 21,000 food workers across the Mid-Atlantic region. While Williams didn’t know the exact number of Safeway and Harris Teeter workers represented, both stores have numerous locations in Fairfax County.

If the merger goes through, it could lead to closures and increased unemployment regionally, according to Williams.

“In Northern Virginia…if you look at a map of Safeway stores and Kroger-owned Harris Teeter, they are often in close proximity to one another,” he said. “As a result of antitrust regulations as well as efficiency, it’s unlikely for a merged company to operate both stores. What sense does it make to have a grocery store across the street from your other grocery store? So, we were worried about store closures.”

FFXnow has reached out to both Safeway and Harris Teeter representatives for comments on the protests and the merger, but has yet to hear back as of publication.

Despite nearly $25 billion being on the line, Williams expressed some hope that the merger could be stopped. He saw the Senate grill grocery store leadership late last year and believes there’s some momentum for the FTC to reject the deal.

“Unlike in years past, where these mergers are something of a formality on the Hill…there is a lof skepticism that this deal will be approved,” he said. “We are certainly more hopeful than we have been in years past.”

Williams and the rest of UFCW Local 400 hope protests like the one in front of the Kingstowne Safeway will encourage the public to advocate against the merger to the FTC and local lawmakers.

“We’re not talking about Taylor Swift tickets and Ticketmaster here. We’re talking about bread, butter and milk,” said Williams. “And we can’t allow any kind of monopoly in the food system.”