Sunday, 29 Jan 2023

Kroger-Albertsons merger: Congressional hearing gets underway

Claudia Morales, a floral manager at Safeway in Colorado Springs, thought about her two children in high school when she first learned about the proposed merger between Kroger and Albertsons.

“What happens if I lose my job? Do they get to go to college? Maybe, maybe not,” she said. The news “dropped on us like a bombshell.”

She joined six United Food and Commercial Workers unions representing more than 100,000 Kroger and Albertsons employees in 12 states and Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday as a congressional hearing on the proposed deal got underway. Members of the unions pushed federal and state regulators to halt the merger between Kroger — the parent company of Colorado’s largest retail grocery chain, King Soopers — and Albertsons, which operates Safeway stores.

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen and Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran are set to testify before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights at the afternoon hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. MST.

An employee for over three years, Morales already weathered the coronavirus pandemic as an essential worker, recalling bare store shelves that “looked like a war zone.”

Morales pointed to colleagues looking forward to retirement, which is now uncertain. “If this merger goes through, thousands of people are going to lose their pensions that they worked for their entire lives.”

She also worries about potential store closures and the ripple effect on nearby community establishments, like laundromats and hair salons, which can lose out on customers as a result. “Those businesses are on the next chopping block. They’re out, too.”

“This is bad for Colorado,” Morales said.

The proposed $25 billion merger — approved by the boards of both companies — is expected to close in early 2024. But consumers, workers, government officials and more have raised questions about its potential impact, with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser in the process of launching an investigation into the deal.

Andres Becerril, a King Soopers front-end supervisor in Denver, is another employee raising concerns about the threat to his and his coworkers’ livelihoods.

“Like me, hundreds of thousands of frontline essential workers spend most of our lives at our stores helping families put food on their table, regardless of the circumstance — during natural disasters, in the face of active shootings and, of course, in the pandemic,” he said at a Tuesday news conference.

After 12 years at King Soopers, Becerril now feels anxious about the potential loss of wages, benefits and healthcare coverage. Consumers could pay higher grocery prices, while farmers and ranchers could also hurt as “this new mega-company will control shelf prices with no competition,” he added.

Smaller Colorado cities, such as Durango, would suffer from the absence of competition between the industry giants, leaving the communities vulnerable to “major job cuts,” Becerril said.

Employees “want and need” Kroger and Albertsons to succeed, he added. “We just want them to thrive as separate entities.”

Subcommittee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and ranking member Mike Lee, R-Utah, both expressed “serious concerns” about the merger.

“I will do everything in my power to ensure our antitrust laws are robustly enforced to protect consumers from anticompetitive mergers that could further exacerbate the financial strain we already feel in the grocery store checkout aisle,” Lee said in a statement.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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