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Tilly on Retail Workers’ Fight for Better Conditions

Grocery Dive spoke with Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly about evolving labor dynamics in the supermarket industry and other large retailers. Energized by a pandemic-spurred labor shortage, workers and labor advocates have made progress in their quest for better working conditions, including higher pay, guaranteed hours, and stronger health and retirement benefits. However, in an age of declining union membership and pressure on businesses to hold down expenses, it will be difficult for workers to make significant long-term gains in their relationships with large companies, Tilly said. In the past, publicly traded retailers were often controlled by families that could make workers a priority, but today they frequently answer to large-scale investors, like mutual fund managers, who are focused on quarterly results, he said. “Shareholders trying to squeeze dividends and increase share price … shifted the balance of power within public companies,” Tilly said.


 

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