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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Derek Roybal and Jeff Terpening: Higher costs and less freedom vs. lower prices and more freedom

By Derek Roybal and Jeff Terpening

By Derek Roybal and Jeff Terpening

We have lived and worked in Spokane for a long time and, like you, we want a better future for ourselves and our families. Corporations getting bigger and bigger across America can be a threat to this better future. Hospital corporate management has become further removed from the actual places where we receive care, and grocery store corporations have become more and more centralized. And the biggest threat now on this front is the proposed mega-grocery store merger of Albertsons and Kroger.

We think this proposed mega grocery store merger is a bad idea. And we’re not alone. Here’s why.

First, as the largest traditional supermarket store chains in America, these two companies (Kroger of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Albertsons from Boise, Idaho) control a lot of what we eat in this country, what we pay for it and what farmers and ranchers who produce it are paid. Kroger employs roughly 450,000-plus and Albertsons 250,000-plus. If their proposed merger were approved, they would become THE mega supermarket chain and all that control would become like a monopoly in many areas around our country. Last time we checked, monopolies are a bad idea in our economy because they get rid of competition that can keep prices in check and allow customers to choose where to shop and what food we can buy. In some places across the country, the closure of a store can result in a food desert with only convenience stores with low quality food choices that can cause significant health impacts. We’d rather have more choices that have healthy options at competitive process, not higher prices and less freedom.

Second, this proposed merger threatens layoffs and store closures. When the CEOs of these companies tell you that won’t happen, do you believe them? We don’t. These two were paid a combined annual compensation of over $35 million in 2022 – more than 500 times their typical employee. When they testified before the U.S. Senate on this topic, they were drilled by Republican and Democratic Senators alike. They were asked, as the CEOs who were setting prices as high as they do now, far higher than inflation generally and making huge profits while they have a major competitor in the market, why should we trust they will reduce those prices AFTER a merger that eliminates one of your biggest competitors? That sounds a bit far-fetched.

Third, it is a threat to our food security and our health to concentrate so much decision-making authority and power into the hands of two CEOs, let alone one. Instead of having fewer, wealthy CEOs making decisions about the food we produce and consume in the country, we feel more local control and input are better. We should be having more community input, worker input and input from farmers to health care experts into the food options we have instead of just a few wealthy CEOs.

The two of us know a lot about what grocery store customers and hospital patients in our area want. We see and talk with these neighbors in our community every day. For many of these neighbors, we see concern and worry about if they will be able to pay their bills today and have a better future tomorrow. Costs are higher for food, housing, medical care, college. For just about everything. That’s not good. We need to turn that around and one thing is for sure – this proposed mega grocery store merger would just make things worse.

So here is what we are for. We are for more control over our own lives with more freedom in our communities. A big part of freedom and control is about the power to make a difference. This might be through a well-run employee-owned grocery store company or food cooperative or some other structure. But one thing is for sure, we need to stop this proposed mega merger. We call on the readers to make a difference by voicing your concerns about this proposed merger to the Federal Trade Commission. An easy way to do that is on the website where more than 2,000 people have already sent in their comments.

We’re not fools. We’ve seen this kind of corporate snake oil salesmanship before. And we’re proud that our union, UFCW 3000, has been a part of the strong opposition to this proposed merger since October, working with farmers in Colorado, from small rural towns in West Virgina to Los Angeles, we are partnering with others to oppose this merger.

Jeff Terpening has worked in many different jobs, mostly night crew, at a local Spokane Safeway for more than 15 years and has lived in Spokane since 1985. Derek Roybal works as a Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist at Sacred Heart Hospital and has worked in health care for 7 years and has lived in Spokane for 30 years. Both Jeff and Derek are active members of UFCW 3000, the state’s largest union.