Prop-22 is already making the gig economy worse. Following the year praising “essential workers” who worked under vulnerable viral conditions, some major California grocery outlets like Vons, Pavilions, and Albertsons are expected to begin firing unionized delivery drivers and replacing them with independent contractors through the application DoorDash. As times become more dire due to the newest stay at home order, these workers don’t need just our praise, they need our help.
Word is spreading amongst delivery groups and brick-and-mortar stores about the firings. In a story from KnockLA, it was confirmed through a manager at a Southern California Vons delivery hub that Vons would begin laying off drivers in February. A separate Pavilions employee noted that they are “no longer using [their own] drivers.” Albertsons supposedly informed many employees over the holidays of the coming severances.
Although they are firing all drivers, both union and non-union, many of the current workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million hard-working men and women. With COVID-19 outbreaks overwhelming hospitals across California, on Tuesday, 5 January, UFCW International President Marc Perrone called Albertson’s decision “stunning.” During a pandemic and an indefinite stay at home order, food supply lines will now be supported by workers with no healthcare and ephemeral loyalty. For seniors, high-risk individuals, and all who are quarantining, unionized delivery is a clear alternative to the exploits realized through the gig economy.
The layoffs do not come as a surprise after the passage of Proposition 22 in the November elections. Union leaders never believed the employers bargained in good faith to begin with. Critics warned that jobs with benefits and protections would disappear. This is a long cry from the early rhetoric of support from grocery leaders. In a March 2020 release, Albertson’s President & CEO Vivek Sankaran proclaimed that “these times are unprecedented in the grocery industry…[where a] simple ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem like quite enough.” Now, Prop 22, provides a legal framework to replace many essential employees with independent contractors and Albertson’s seized on it. These same essential workers are being left unprotected by both governments and employers.
Albertson’s spokesman Andrew Whelan claims the move will only be in select locations. However, the impact will certainly be felt. Albertson’s is currently the fourth largest grocer in the US. With deliveries for companies like Safeway already empowered by Instacart, if Albertsons completes this move, most California shoppers will have had unionized grocery deliveries replaced with gig economy workers. UFCW International President Perrone wants Albertsons to immediately halt these plans and urged them to put the “health of their customers first by protecting the jobs of these brave essential workers at a time when our communities need them most.”
This move comes after nearly a year of celebrating grocery store workers for feeding communities. With vaccines are rolling out, these workers deserve more than being cut loose. These grocery outlets should be ashamed of reneging on their earlier commitment to “take care of their team.” The marginal increases in delivery costs are not worth the upheaval of workers we see as essential. Prop 22 is already showing that corporations will seek to exploit the worker at every turn as soon as they can.