Letter to EcoNews: Difficult Decisions

Greetings Editor,

As someone working in the grocery industry for over 25 years, ranging from working at tiny independent natural food stores and cooperatives to representing unionized grocery workers in both natural food cooperatives and national grocery chains, I was excited to read the “Difficult Decisions: Shopping Ethically Within Your Budget” article to see what criteria were looked at in the decision-making process. I have found these types of assessments can ignore the conditions of the workers in favor of consumer considerations (ie. the cost or availability of products over the wages, benefits or security of employees). I was encouraged to see “fair employment” was listed in the first  sentence, but unfortunately that would be the last it was mentioned in the article. The second to last paragraph again lists other unexplored criteria, but “fair employment” is inexplicably dropped from the list. 

All too often we forget how the conditions of workers impact so many other aspects of our lives and not just the cost of the foods they grow, produce or stock on the shelves. Fair wages allow workers housing security and to have greater financial freedom to choose local or organic groceries, to list a few. When employers don’t provide their workforce with affordable health insurance, those workers’ healthcare is subsidized by our tax dollars. Until we have universal healthcare, affordable employer-based healthcare plans improve health outcomes, and our taxpayer dollars can be used for other societal needs like addressing sea level rise or increasing the amount of CalFresh supplements for assistance. During COVID 19 and with the expansion of the “gig” economy into retail grocery, we have all learned the importance of job security, flexible leave of absence policies, and fair work scheduling. All these examples of impacts on workers and of their need to be considered in shopping ethically fit right into the Authors takeaways: ethical shopping not limited to the upper class, and access to affordable and ethical options for all. And these areas (wages, benefits, terms & conditions of employment) are also mandatory subjects of bargaining in a Union contract.

I appreciate the article calls for further exploration of the other criteria and emphatically encourage continued research so we can have all aspects of what shopping ethically means when we make our “Difficult Decisions”.

John Frahm

UFCW Local 5