By Joel M. Albrizio, President

"Minimum Wage Laws VS. Marketplace Reality"

For much of my professional career, I listened to retailers discussing the minimum wage. Rightfully so, supermarket retailers are held to a standard few would consider fair when reviewing wage requirements.

Supermarket retailers have evolved more and more toward prepared food items evolving into more of a meal solution provider, much like a restaurant.

"Why The Change Toward Prepared Foods As An Offering?"

The retail food competition from every retail entity is looking to retain or build sales by adding food sales into the all important mix.

Gas stations became convenience retailers. Target, Walmart, K-Mart and others developed the large format retailer perspective . The fast food icons McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's dominate the lower end dining. Then consider all of the offerings working up from casual dining all the way to fine dining....every retail entity wants to sell food.

If we are to take a realistic look at supermarket retail and its sustainability as we understand it today, we must all agree to a level playing field.

"What Is The Level Playing Field & Why Can't We Get There"

While supermarkets in many states like Massachusetts are bound to the minimum wage of $10/hr, any restaurant up or down the street is only required to pay its wait staff $3.35/hr.

As an example.....in Massachusetts, the only requirement to reduce the employees' pay to $3.35/hr, is the employee must receive at least $20 per month in tips. So in short, the supermarket retailer suffers a painful $6.65 per hour penalty per employee when selling the exact same perishables in the same marketplace, potentially to the same customer.

Most every state in the United States has a group that represents the supermarket retailer, both for and against legislation affecting any aspect of food retail in that state's capital.

To my knowledge, most every statewide group representing supermarkets at the state level fights vigorously to keep the minimum wage from rising. Silently acting within a PAC, the state's food organization represents retailers in the fight to hold the minimum wage as low as possible. Suppressing the minimum wage, along with any other bill which may challenge a supermarkets profitability, are often at odds with the voting public.

"A Silent War With The Wrong People"

I have often wondered, and even personally questioned two such supermarket organizations, why as members we would try to support the least popular side of the perennial minimum wage debate. Why take the position of suppressing the wages of the population that needs our support the most.

"Our Employees Need Our Support At The State Capital"

Continually, my question is why not use the same PAC monies to fight for restaurant employees to enjoy the same minimum wage of $10/hr all other employees are guaranteed, rather than the $3.35/hr. allowed only to restaurants?

Again and again I have asked the question... Doesn't it seem easier, and certainly more popular within the legislature, to author bills to raise the wages of service employees to $10/hr. and allow the supermarket a level playing field?

Further, where most restaurants serve beer & wine, if not spirits as well, the wage should be required to be higher, and some training mandated. As a responsibility to the public, we must be certain the customer has not become impaired while enjoying a meal and perhaps too much to drink.

Imagine this when we review just how unfair the process and pay scales are, employees earning $3.35/hr decide if you've had too much to drink to drive. In Massachusetts like most states we require education and testing with almost everything we do professionally.

However, the person behind a restaurant bar is not required to have an education or training, and is paid $3.35/hr. They rely on the very patrons' "in question" tips to survive financially. Then we wonder why drunk driving is such a problem we seem to have little ability to control.

It would seem from a "branding" stand point, the supermarket retailer, and its supporting retail food organizations, could and should stand tall on the side of the middle class.

Not every supermarket is allowed a beer and wine license, yet it's available to almost any dining establishment just for the asking. So now we invite drinking  alcohol outside the home, where it is necessary to drive afterwards.

"The Laws Are Not Fair To The Supermarkets"

The supermarket retailer could and should ask for equality in salaries. If presented correctly, it would seem only reasonable for the communities the supermarket serves to support the supermarket until the local restaurants concede or equality in wages becomes law.

Now from a branding perspective, the grocer could have the support of outside groups from far and wide. These groups could  include other unions not involved in supermarket commerce and organizations like "MADD," Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Every business owner or operator should give each of their employees what should be required by law. The laws should be equal for all retail entities selling the same products.

Given the reach and abilities of the supermarket retailer to develop marketing programs, and the resulting advertising, this would not only seem a more popular approach, but one more likely to succeed.

Now if we look at an industry where compensation is equal, it will be more difficult for the diner down the street to toss out those specials that become category killers for the supermarket retailer.

For example, Publix Supermarkets goes a step further. Every full time employee, once qualified for the stock program earns common stock in the Publix corporation for every hour worked.

While Publix does not have all of the answers to local support regarding wage equality, we believe that support is there for the asking if positioned correctly at the state's capital.

"Isn't It Time Your State's Supermarket Organization Requested Wage Equality?"

In closing, many have asked why I choose to write about what I see in the supermarket industry today and my ideas. At Adlife we believe great ideas and its resulting branding will give new life and direction to any company. So for that reason we chose to open the discussion.

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