Employment is essentially a business transaction out of which all parties should come out fairly like in any other business transaction. It involves employees exchanging their skills, knowledge and experience for a wage with employers. Naturally, employers would like to pay as little as possible for work done while employees would like to get as much as possible for their work.
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Since employers are few in number and more powerful than employees and can conspire to remunerate workers unfairly, there is need for employees to come together in form of labor or trade unions in order to enhance their bargaining power regarding fair remuneration, as well as, provision of good, safe and secure working conditions. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how unionization has impacted retail food industry (Publix) and the role of labor unions in shaping retail food industry and current business conditions for Publix.
How unionization has impacted retail food industry (Publix) in US
Labour unions popularly known as trade unions play significant roles in protecting unionized workers labor rights against abuse by employers in virtually all industries. Unionization has enabled retail food industry workers to enjoy various work related benefits. For instance, according to Institute for Women’s Policy Research (2002), unionized retail food industry workers earn higher wages in comparison to those not unionized.
Unionized workers also stand greater chances of enjoying health insurance cover through their employment, get relatively bigger health insurance premium subsidies and are more than two times likely to take part in an employer or union-sponsored pension plan than non-union counterparts (IWPR 2002).These benefits help in safeguarding the economic well being of retail food industry workers and their families.
In response to extra labor and operational costs brought about by unionization of workers, as well as, competition some players have opted to merge. Others have been driven out of the market while others have been replaced by nonunion chain drugstores selling food products, greengrocers and upscale specialty food stores (Ness, 2005). Other supermarket chains like Publix have lowered costs by establishing part-time jobs that give much lower wages and offer few if any benefits.
Some players employ new immigrants who work longer hours under poorer work conditions (Ness, 2005). In addition, supermarkets have been pushing for labor unions to assist in cutting down labor costs in their quest to expand their profit margins. In fact, entry of new immigrant jobseekers in to retail food industry is one factor that has been significant in reorganization of the conventional employer-employee relationships.
The role of labor unions in shaping retail food industry and current business conditions for Publix
Despite the numerous labor challenges facing players in the retail food industry Publix is still ranked among the list of 100 Best companies to work for (griffinreport 2011). For example, in the year 2010 it was ranked No. 86 by Fortune Magazine. Publix profit margins have remained considerably high irrespective of the labor trends in the retail food industry with its future looking even brighter if its current performance record is anything to go by.
For instance, Publix’s year 2009 sales stood at over US$25.1 billion with a profit margin of over $ 1.2 billion (griffinreport 2011). However, it is to note that Publix like any other player has witnessed a rise in labor costs as a result of union-related trends in the industry and it is safe to argue that proposed union-related legislation by the federal government might positively or negatively affect Publix and other players.
For example, a labor legislation that requires employers like Publix to provide health insurance for their permanent and part-time workers would result definitely into an increase in labor costs and thereby affect adversely their profit margins. Examples of unions that have dominated retail labor market for a considerably long period of time include United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1500 and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) Local 338.
Irrespective of the many benefits that workers in the retail food industry stand to enjoy as a result unionization, employers would like their industry to remain union-free in order to ensure increased profit margins at the expense of workers. Some players in the industry have turned to hiring new immigrants as well as those who have overstayed their visas who work for lower wages under poorer conditions knowing very well they may not have any one to turn.
However, from a labor and human rights point of view the government should make fair labor legislations that will ensure that workers in this industry are not exploited unnecessarily by their employers who are ever determined to cut labor and overall operational costs at the expense of poor workers. Nevertheless, such legislations should not be unfair to industry players like Publix who play a significant role in national economic growth and development.
Griffinreport (2011). Associates & Customer Satisfaction Drive Ultimate Success for Publix. Web.
Institute for Women’s Policy Research. (2002). The Benefits of Unionization for Workers in the Retail Food Industry. Web.
Ness, I. (2005). Immigrants, unions, and the new U.S. labor market. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.