Hamil R. HarrisLocal Business

Shoppers Employees Fight for Jobs as Chain Falters

Even though the Shoppers Food & Pharmacy chain is officially for sale and stores are closing, a union spokesman said workers are fighting to keep their jobs amid the uncertainty.

Jonathan Williams, spokesman for the local chapter of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), said that the rank-and-file union members have held protests at various locations and that the only information they’ve received thus far is the stores are up for sale.

“We staged a week of action to get the information to the community and our members want to know what is going on because they are fed up,” Williams told The Washington Informer. “Shoppers has changed several owners and the only thing that we know is that they want to get out of the retail business.”

In March, Shoppers’ parent company, United Natural Foods Inc., said that they planned to get out of the retail grocery business to focus on wholesale distribution, the Washington Business Journal reported.

UNFI CEO Steve Spinner said his company planned to sell the 36 area stores within months, the Journal reported.

“We’re making great progress on divesting our retail assets,” Spinner reportedly said on a March 6 earnings call. “I’d say that we’re well down the path on selling Shoppers and I’m confident we’ll get that done in the coming months.”

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy and other local leaders want to talk Shoppers officials because several of its stores are located in communities considered “food deserts” because of shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Though Giant Foods is purchasing some of the stores in the area, local UFCW leaders went on the offensive two weeks ago after Shoppers closed its Chillum location.

“For more than 40 years, Shoppers has provided good union jobs with fair wages and health and retirement benefits, as well as affordable, fresh food in many lower-income communities that would otherwise be food deserts,” said a statement from the union leaders. “Now thousands of union jobs are at risk and entire communities could be left without access to fresh food. Just because some far-off corporate office decides to leave the retail business doesn’t mean our community can be cast aside and forgotten.”

Across greater Washington and Baltimore, there are 12 Shoppers locations in Prince George’s County, 10 in Northern Virginia, three in Montgomery County and 13 in Baltimore.

In their statement, the union leaders said that even though store associates are the backbone of the Shoppers stores they have been left to wonder what the future will hold.

Williams said even though people are working, “they have right to know what is going on in terms of the future, what is going with their jobs and their livelihood.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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