Today I did a hard thing. I stopped shopping at Schnucks for the forseeable future. This was not an easy decision. Many years ago, after sampling some of their competitors in the city—Aldi’s, Shop and Save, and an occasional 15 minute drive to Dierbergs—I settled on Schnucks as my main weekly shopping location. I have two reasonably near me, and after a while, I learned their aisles and their product lines. They met my needs, and offered some unique features. I like shopping. I was raised in the grocery business, and I understand the “behind the scenes” operation. I like the idea of a family business growing large. And, while I have basically been satisfied, I have noticed a few changes for the worse from my consumer point of view: products removed from their inventories without any consumer appeal process, B-grade produce, especially fruit, and drawn out store reorganizations. But on the other hand, I recognize that the grocery business is difficult, especially with notorious competitors like Walmart and Target.
But what brought me to this new decision point was that a Facebook friend of mine called my attention to a recent controversial action by Schnucks upper management. The way Schnucks explains it, they stopped using their Bridgeton warehouse, which they say was outdated and too small, and secured another company to provide warehousing on a “larger and more efficient” scale. And they fired 190 of the union employees at the Bridgeton warehouse, upsetting greatly the local union. The union’s side of the story is that they have an agreement with Schnucks that any such firing requires the workers be rehired or moved to a different position if needed. But Schnucks replies that they have no control over who this new warehousing company is hiring. They say that this move is “necessary for growth.” And growth is supposed to be a good thing for everyone. Not. This story is on-going and complex, and I don’t want to get distracted by the details from my major point.
The fact is that this maneuver, engineered under the 4th generation leader of the chain, Todd Schnucks, together with the company’s continued insensitivity to either the fired workers or the union’s concern for their members, this maneuver irritates me. The more recent decision of Schnucks to ban all solicitors, including the Salvation Army and the Girl Scouts delighted me. As a gay shopper, it ticks me off that at Christmas I have to walk past poor people who need the work shilling for a homophobic organization. BUT, what irritates me about this delightful decision, is that it appears to be an effort to keep union demonstrators off Schnucks property. If this is true, this is hard-core union bashing. I do not respond well to union bashing.
There has been an intensive effort by monied interests in this nation of fewer haves and more have-nots to destroy the bargaining power of organized labor. Almost every Republican president or governor we have had since Ronald Reagan has had this as a major goal. Within our political process here, and particularly the lobbying process, unions are almost the lone voice attempting to protect the worker. Everyone else speaks for monied interests. Republicans and some Democrats support right-to-work laws, designed to undercut the power of unions to defend workers’ rights. It’s not that I don’t realize unions have their problems and their limitations, because they do, generally and on a case by case basis. It’s just that this is the last organized voice with any power base speaking for workers’ concerns. I’m never going to stop being supportive to unions in this dollarocracy that our democracy seems to be becoming. It’s possible to run a retail grocery chain and have some concern and compassion for workers’ welfare and future. It’s possible to reward workers for loyalty and hard work. I don’t believe that Schnucks has really lived up to its responsibility here.
So for the time being, I am shopping elsewhere, hopefully at stores that I can be sure are treating their workers well. I’m not saying that I’ll never go into a Schnucks again or that I’ll never buy anything there. I have my favorite products. It’s also very hard for me to abandon Schnucks Scrip card, which gives a donation to your favorite charity proportional to the amount you spend. My church, Trinity Episcopal Church, has a food program that makes $1000 + dollars from this program. But, I assuage my conscience here by giving a direct monthy donation to the food ministry itself. And I’m not at all pleased with my alternatives. Whole Foods is notorious for some of their actions and political support, but I do have to occasionally buy a few things there.
I will continue to follow this story to see whether the dispute between the union and the company is settled by fiat or by negotiation. I’d like to see some negotiating here. Everybody has to do their thing, and I’m just following my little conscience in my little world. Like carrying my own bags to the grocery, even when I forget them in the car and have to go back for them. It’s not going to change the world, but at least it’s something.