[Excerpt] As UFCW international and local leaders know from first hand experience, there have been dramatic changes in the retail grocery industry over the past 15 years. Of most direct relevance to the collective bargaining environment, the absolute size of key corporations has increased and economic power in the industry has become more concentrated. Influenced by the spread of Wal-Mart's grocery operations, established companies like Kroger, Safeway, Supervalu, and Loblaw have pursued aggressive merger and market expansion strategies. Further complicating the situation has been the success of other alternative format grocers (such as Costco, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and BJ's), and the entry and expanding influence of global corporations. Clearly, the competitive nature of the market has been irrevocably altered.
Another aspect of the change in the collective bargaining environment has been the decline in the relative strength that the UFCW brings to the collective bargaining table. While the UFCW's total membership numbers have marginally slipped over the past decade, the power of the key industry employers, as noted above, has vastly increased. As a result, the UFCW's "core industry power" in retail food has ebbed.
These evolving economic realities have provided the rationale for corporate labor relations strategies that are hard-nosed, antagonistic and transcend traditional local market dynamics, which formerly were the critical factor in the character of negotiations.