When Dylan’s grocery delivery arrived a few days before New Years', it came with some bad news. The delivery driver who brought his groceries from Vons mentioned that drivers across the state are getting fired by Vons, Pavilions, and other California stores owned by Albertsons Companies at the end of January. Stores will instead turn to a third-party delivery service using independent contractors.

“I was disturbed and disappointed that Vons would eliminate these jobs. I felt like they were the only remaining company that treated delivery drivers ethically but no longer,” said Dylan.

A manager at a Southern California Vons delivery hub confirmed that as of February, Vons would be laying off drivers. A local Pavilions employee noted that they’re “no longer using drivers,” and shifting to DoorDash instead. Vons and Albertsons Corporate did not respond to requests for comment.

Many drivers under the Albertsons Companies umbrella are union employees, while Ralphs's delivery is operated by Instacart and Target uses Shipt, a similar app. With this move from Vons and Albertsons, most shoppers in California will no longer have a unionized choice for grocery deliveries.

These layoffs are unsurprising after the passage of Proposition 22, which gutted worker protections while making it easier for companies to shift financial burdens onto newly-designated “independent contractors.” In a piece for KNOCK last year, Keith F. Eberl predicted this exact outcome in the opening paragraph:

The only surprise is the speed at which Albertsons reversed course on its commitments to workers. This move comes after nearly a year of celebrating grocery store workers for feeding communities. Earlier this year, Albertsons Companies President & CEO Vivek Sankaran said the company was “taking care of our team.” Albertsons Companies “are working… to ensure that every member of our team who faces a crisis can have peace of mind that we will help them get through it.”

Albertsons was happy to reap public goodwill during the pandemic. But once Prop 22 gave the company the option of replacing workers with lower-paid contractors, they jumped at the opportunity. Employees received notice during the holidays that their employment would end one month into the new year.

Early in the pandemic, union members demanded hazard pay, additional medical leave, and employee protections during the pandemic. In March, Safeway and Northern California grocery workers reached an agreement providing these additional benefits.

Labor and management were able to cooperate in April, requesting that grocery workers be designated as first responders. In an April joint statement, Sankaran and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) President Marc Perrone wrote:

Negotiations in October turned contentious, as members of the Teamsters issued a notice of potential strike due to rising healthcare costs. Lou Villavazo, who chairs the bargaining effort, told the Orange County Register that “employers have been bargaining in bad faith. We’ve had over 18 bargaining sessions with them and we provided our economic proposal … but no response.”

Many, myself included, turned to Vons and Albertsons stores for their groceries, knowing that drivers were employed with benefits. Unionized drivers offered a clear alternative to the hellscape of gig-economy apps like Instacart.

In a March 2020 statement, Sankaran said “these times are unprecedented in the grocery industry… [a] simple ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem like quite enough.” He was right. Delivery drivers deserve healthcare, job protections, and fair wages. Workers won those fights this year because they fought as a union. With DoorDash taking over in February, that united front will be gone.

You can contact Albertsons Companies and let them know what you think of this move:

Vons Retail Store/Corporate Phone Number: 877–723–3929

Albertsons Retail Store/Corporate Phone Number: 877–723–3929

@KtownForAll.