Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Race to the Bottom Continues

We hear the term 'race to the bottom' on occasion. This story is local to the Fox Valley and echoed in various forms across the country. Background is important so that's where I start.

After WWII (1945) men came home and worked in paper mills, foundries, and all manner of manufacturing. Good union jobs with benefits were the order of the day. Other groups soon followed: teachers, city and county workers and more. Grocery workers also began to organize. Grocery workers never made much in terms of hourly wages but the union negotiated benefits to compensate for the low wages. Health insurance was always at the top in terms of importance.

Workers in the paper mills were happy to shop at unionized groceries. They knew the value of having their low wage counterparts with good health coverage. It meant that the grocery workers were not a burden on the community, i.e. their hospital stays and ambulance costs were covered and unlikely to raise rates for others.

Grocery stores grudgingly went along with the union demands. It was good for business and good for the communities.

Fleming Inc.

Fleming was at one point in the recent past the largest wholesaler of groceries in the country. They also did retail. In Oshkosh they delivered food to the BP convenience store at Bowen and Merritt. They also delivered to Festival Foods. They partnered with the Skogen family to build Festival here and other places. Fleming's largest account was with Kmart nationwide. Kmart was also their downfall.

Mall-Wart, Kmart, Fleming & Festival

Mall-Wart intensely hurt Kmart, which did not have good management. Kmart became a ghost town. Fleming Inc. continued to supply Kmart and extend them credit, multi-million dollar credit. One day a few years back Kmart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A judge Ok'd slower repayments to Fleming. Fleming in turn was forced to file for Chapter 11 and a short time later filed Chapter 7 (total bankruptcy).

In short order the BP on Merritt and Bowen needed a new supplier. Festival's silent owner was in total bankruptcy and the Fleming warehouse closed. Festival was in big trouble. It needed a supplier and someone who could buy into the store.

Supervalu, Cub Foods, and Festival

Supervalu, which owns Cub Foods, was in the process of closing Cub on Witzel in 2003. When Fleming Inc. tanked that same year, Supervalu stepped in and became a silent owner of Festival and began supplying them with food too.

Let it be said that Cub Foods never left Oshkosh. Supervalu just closed up shop on Witzel and moved to the other side of Hy.41 (Festival Foods).

When Supervalu cherry-picked Fleming Inc. during the bankruptcy they also acquired something else. They now own exclusive use of the Festival Foods name.

Appleton: Cub Foods and Festival Foods

The Post Crescent and the Oshkosh Northwestern recently reported that Cub Foods in Appleton will close March 11 and Festival Foods will open in the same location in June. If the reporter would've taken a moment to check web sites they would've figured out that the Cub name would come down, the Festival name would go up, and the trucks parked in back would still say Super Valu!

There are many conclusions that can be drawn. I will dwell on the 'people' one. In Appleton, as in Oshkosh, a number of union jobs will be lost. People with a lot of years toiling for Supervalu will now be figuratively screwed by Supervalu.

Some 47 million Americans are without health insurance and the number increases every day due to corporate greed. The above story is being repeated all over the nation with different names and different players.

Do your part. Don't shop Mall-Wart. Tell Mall-Wart employees and grocery workers that they can have good health insurance. Tell them to call the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) for help. Grant Withers is the guy to talk to in Oshkosh.

Shop where you know the employees are taken care of. That would be Woodmans in Appleton. In Oshkosh shop the Pig on Murdock. The Pig has half-gallons of premium ice-cream for under $2 bucks this week. Try to find that cheaper somewhere else in Oshkosh.

Our nation needs more people with health insurance, and not the other way around.


Here are the links: Cub Foods, Festival Foods, SuperValu, and UFCW.

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