A headline in the San Francisco Business Times last April read, “Safeway board says CEO Burd is underpaid at $11.4 million.” The mega-grocer’s directors complained that Steven Burd’s compensation package was “at or near the bottom half of our compensation peer group in most categories.” Burd retired last May, presumably to a life of former-CEO poverty.
Cue the world’s tiniest violin.
Kroger CEO Dave Dillon, who runs Fred Meyer and QFC, is similarly underpaid, at a paltry $11.3 million annually.
Lawrence R. Johnston, CEO of Albertsons, earned a mere $9.29 million last year, according to Forbes. That’s only a dime more than Washington state minimum wage, times one million. But save your tears. Albertson’s board stepped up with a $23 million golden parachute when he left this year.
While CEO compensation soars skyward like Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, working people are being ground into the dirt. Meanwhile, the cost of what makes America middle-class — home ownership, higher education and access to health care — orbits in ever-higher regions of space.
Rising CEO salaries can only come from one place: screwing those who actually do the work. This, as income disparity in America has reached pre-1928 levels, has gone far enough.
And so, the 30,000 grocery workers represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21 have, by a 98 percent margin, voted to strike if negotiators cannot reach a fair contract. UFCW Local 367 and Teamsters Local 38 represent affected workers as well.
Thanks to broad community support, progress has been made. The most heinous of the two pages of proposed take-backs — elimination of health care for workers who get
30 hours a week or fewer a week — came off the table during the last round of negotiations.
Management’s idea, apparently, was that the advent of Obamacare offered a golden opportunity for a fat government subsidy. This sort of let-the-people-pay logic is why one-in-seven Americans are on food stamps. When corporations don’t compensate workers enough to cover basic living expenses, we all make up the difference.
The big chain CEOs still want to reduce starting pay to minimum wage, kill time-and-a-half for holidays and treat departmental transfers as an excuse to eliminate earned employee seniority.
They’d also like to freeze wages at 2012 levels until 2016.
This feels a lot like getting robbed for lunch money.
Real Change vendors get why this matters. Many of our vendors have union backgrounds and understand that whatever power we have comes from collective action.
Many sell in front of grocery stores, and the checkers, stockers and baggers are people they chat with every day. They understand that the differences between them are not so large, and that while our rungs on the economic ladder may shift according to opportunity and fortune, the working poor as a class face similar vulnerabilities.
This is why Real Change vendors have walked the UFCW picket lines, had their photos taken with store checkers and handed out more than 3,000 “Stand With Our Checker” coupons over the past week alone. We’re in it together.
Join us. If the big chain CEOs can bully working people in Seattle and Puget Sound, they can do it anywhere. Go to standwithourcheckers.com to learn what you can do. And don’t wait. This fight needs you now.