WinCo in Ventura opens its doors
Grocer union concerned about employee-owned store’s way of doing business
By Shane Cohn 05/09/2013
Controversy or not, a new supermarket will be opening in Ventura this week, which some feel may eventually be a burden on the community.
WinCo Foods, an employee-owned discount food chain, opens its doors on Thursday, May 9, at 9 a.m. at the old Mervyn’s location at 4750 Telephone Road. The opening of the 78,500-square-foot location will boost local employment numbers, as nearly 200 people are expected, eventually, to work at this location.
But United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770 hasn’t been too thrilled about the company using nonunion employees.
“They don’t pay a wage to raise a family on,” said Mike Shimpock, spokesman for UFCW Local 770. “It becomes a burden on local taxpayers because employees are forced to look elsewhere for adequate healthcare, and find other resources.”
Michael Read, WinCo’s vice president for public and legal affairs, said this is a typical reaction from union groups.
“Like many things the unions say, it’s hyperbole and simply not true,” Read said. “What we do, typically, is look at union contracts that prevail in the area and match them exactly or beat them.”
Read, located in WinCo’s Boise, Idaho, headquarters, wasn’t sure about the Ventura location’s average wage. The union, representing employees from supermarkets like Vons, Albertsons and others, pays an average wage of $13/hour, according to Shimpock.
“Union markets can guarantee we have workers that can take care of themselves and their family and the money goes back to the community,” said Shimpock.
The employee-owned design of WinCo is handled through an employee stock ownership trust that creates a pension plan. After a WinCo employee logs 1,000 hours in a year, he or she begins vesting in the plan and becomes fully vested in five years. The company annually contributes 20 percent of an employee’s total W-2 compensation.
Read said that there are currently 509 employees working frontline or management positions throughout the company’s 87 multistate locations that have seven-figure sums in their retirement funds.
Shimpock argued that the retirement funds are rarely spent locally, and WinCo employees are being used to maximize the company’s profits and benefit shareholders elsewhere.
Read, again, disagreed. “We’re paying essentially the same scale as the union. If they want to characterize that as below minimum wage that threatens the community they’d have to say the same thing about their own company.”
In the meantime, Read said that the company is eager to make itself known in the Ventura community.
“I think this will be a great site for us,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of economic research, and as a result of that, we’re confident the store will do well.”
The supermarket, known for its low prices, will have roughly 200 employees, of which 180 are newly hired from the area. It will be open 24 hours a day.