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Bagging Our Own

The grocery workers in St. Louis have gone on strike for the first time in history. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 voted to strike earlier this week against the third-largest grocery chain, Shop ‘n Save. The two largest chains, Schnucks and Dierbergs, locked out the unions in response.

So far, the stores refuse to consider improving their last contract offer, and a union spokesman says they’ll stay out “until hell freezes over.”

Replacement workers are being hired. The Teamsters say they won’t deliver food to the stores, which together sell about 70%-80% of the groceries in the St. Louis metro. Since Schnucks, Dierbergs, and Shop ‘n Save are still open, albeit with reduced hours (10am-7pm), somebody is restocking shelves.

This could get ugly.

The only winner in the short term will be non-union stores, like Aldi, a warehouse-type discount food chain. My wife shops there, and she said the local Aldi was packed yesterday with first-timers, the aisles full of stunned, wide-eyed shoppers struggling with the concept of bagging their own groceries. (And paying 25%-50% less than at the big chains. Rats! The secret’s out.)

In the long run, I think the union is in for a drubbing. The grocery business returns an average 4% profit, and I suspect we consumers will vote with our wallets for cheap breakfast cereal over a living wage for checkers and baggers.

The local Schnucks had already installed several “scan ’em and bag ’em yourself” lanes before the strike. I’ll bet we see more of them soon.

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