Fred Meyer employees Shawna Wilder, right, and Michelle O’Keefe, left, hand out flyers with information about the grocery merger and chat with a customer on Thursday, April 6, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Fred Meyer employees Shawna Wilder, right, and Michelle O’Keefe, left, hand out flyers with information about the grocery merger and chat with a customer on Thursday, April 6, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Marysville grocery workers protest Kroger-Albertsons merger

The chains announced a $24.6 billion deal to merge in 2022. If it goes through, it could affect over 300 stores in Washington.

MARYSVILLE — A handful of unionized grocery store workers gathered in the rain outside a Fred Meyer at 9925 State St. in Marysville Thursday afternoon to protest the proposed merger between grocery chains Kroger and Albertsons.

About 10 demonstrators braved the dreary day to call attention to their opposition to the merger. They passed out leaflets to customers and gave out bags with the words, “Proud to Shop Union.”

Thursday’s demonstration was part of a larger effort from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. More than 25 protests about the merger are planned across the state, according to officials from the union’s local chapter, UFCW 3000. Similar gatherings are scheduled in 10 other states and the District of Columbia.

Sean Mahoney, who was shopping Thursday at the Fred Meyer, was convinced by the demonstration.

“What’s gonna happen when there’s no competition?” he asked. Mahoney was concerned about price inflation, but also workers’ rights.

With just one giant employer, when someone loses their job through “no fault of your own,” Mahoney said, “you got no other options.”

More than 100 organizations have formed a coalition to launch a “Stop the Merger” campaign. 

The megachains announced the merger agreement in October 2022. The $24.6 billion deal could have a huge impact in Washington, where the corporations own over 300 stores combined. They own 5,000 stores total.

Stores in Washington owned by Kroger or Albertsons include QFC, Safeway and Fred Meyer.

Unions have protested the merger, citing concerns about store closures and union jobs.

Tom Geiger, a UFCW 3000 spokesperson, said a large consolidation like this could hinder union bargaining.

“The ability for workers to come together and collectively, within the union, negotiate for their wages and benefits is partly exercised through market power,” Geiger said.

Geiger also warned that the merger is likely to increase price inflation.

These worries have a history. In 2015, when Safeway and Albertsons merged, the Federal Trade Commission ordered the sale of a number of stores. Haggen, a grocery chain based in Washington, bought most of them, only to go bankrupt soon after. Eventually, Albertsons took over the company.

Haggen’s collapse led to layoffs and store closures.

“It was like a bad game of Monopoly,” Geiger said.

Richard Waits, now a UFCW 3000 representative, was working for Haggen when Safeway and Albertsons merged.

“We’ve already seen it happen,” he said Thursday, “and they’re just doing it again.”

In January, the state Supreme Court chose not to review Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s legal challenge to the $4 billion dividend paid by Albertsons to shareholders as a result of Kroger’s buyout of the company. The lawsuit was an attempt to stop the payment on the grounds that it would undercut Albertsons’ ability to compete while the merger was pending.

Still, the merger is far from a sure thing. The announcement in October said the deal should go through in early 2024, pending regulatory approval. The FTC is reviewing the merger, however, and could move to block it.

In written responses provided for a U.S. Senate hearing about the acquisition, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said the company would not close stores or lay off frontline workers because of the merger.

He also dismissed concerns about inflation, citing price decreases after Kroger’s mergers with other companies to argue that the merger would actually lower prices.

Crystal Dunn, a Fred Meyer employee of 33 years, doesn’t believe Kroger’s assurances that there won’t be store closures “for a minute,” she said Thursday.

With this kind of monopoly, she said, “something’s gotta give.”

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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