The National Grocers Association has sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging his administration to advance polices that “help Americans get back to work” and ensure local independent supermarkets can continue to serve their communities.
In the letter, NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara said the grocery industry is struggling to find qualified employees for thousands of open positions, ranging from entry-level associates to experienced and career positions such as bakers, butchers and cooks.
“Congress, governors and the administration must focus its efforts on fixing the broken unemployment insurance program to ensure the system does not discourage recipients from finding work,” Ferrara wrote. “While unemployed Americans certainly need a safety net as they try to get back on their feet, the benefits of combined unemployment and stimulus policies should not meet or exceed prior compensation, or businesses will be competing with the government for labor.”
According to a third-party consultant for an NGA member, the combination of enhanced unemployment insurance, stimulus checks and tax refunds for a family of four equates to about $34.22 per hour for the next five months if the worker stays on unemployment.
“It is simply impossible for grocers who exist on razor-thin profit margins to compete for work when the government is paying workers to stay home,” Ferrara wrote. “The market is driving up entry-level wages to rates that may soon only be affordable by large chains with deep pockets, putting even more pressure on the lower-margin, locally owned supermarkets. This adds another risk to rural and low-income communities, which disproportionately depend on independent grocers for access to healthy and affordable food products and are increasingly seeing a retreat of grocery investment.”
Ferrara notes in the letter that many of its members are already paying above local minimum wage, and that the industry increased pay, provided additional overtime opportunities and offered bonuses throughout the pandemic as grocers dealt with increased labor needs to accommodate increased consumer demand and to implement labor-intensive public health protocols, such as cleaning and sanitizing, ensuring social distancing and enforcing mask policies enforcement.
‘More Needs to be Done’
On May 10, the Biden administration issued a Fact Sheet outlining additional steps it is taking to help Americans return to work. Those steps include:
- Accelerating the provision of assistance to hard-hit child care providers to get more parents back to work.
- Expanding states’ reemployment services and workforce development boards’ jobs counseling for unemployment beneficiaries.
- Providing states and localities with the resources they need to help return Americans to work.
- Helping employers—especially small businesses—rehire and retain workers through the extended and expanded employee retention credit.
- Reaffirming longstanding unemployment insurance requirements to make sure everyone, including states, employers and workers, understands the rules for benefits.
Ferrara said these actions “are a positive step, but more needs to be done” in the letter, which cites a recent NGA member survey in which 100% of respondents reported workforce and labor access challenges, with problems becoming significantly more acute in the last two months since Biden signed the American Rescue Plan. Ninety-seven percent of respondents attribute this increase to the law’s extension of enhanced federal unemployment insurance and stimulus policies.
“NGA is extremely worried about the impact of the growing labor shortage in the coming weeks and months. We would like to collaborate with the administration on solutions that will help Americans get back to work and ensure our local independent supermarkets can continue to serve their communities,” he wrote.
To help address recruiting needs in the grocery industry, NGA Foundation’s online career center has expanded its efforts, including recruitment ads, shared information on job fairs and hiring initiatives, and providing services to job seekers such as resume writing and interview tips.
“Although these efforts have led to some modest improvements, we need the support of our federal and state government officials to make solving this problem as urgent of a priority as we are,” Ferrara wrote.