Connecticut’s budget agreement would require grocery stores established in food deserts to enter into a labor peace agreement with a union in order to receive municipal tax abatements.
Labor peace agreements ensure the business owner will remain neutral if a union seeks to represent employees and the union agrees not to hold boycotts or pickets or work stoppages. A similar mandate was made for Connecticut cannabis businesses under the enabling marijuana legalization bill.
The budgetary language was taken from House Bill 6854, which requires, among other things, the Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity and Opportunity (CWCSEO) “to hire a food and nutrition policy analyst to coordinate state efforts to reduce food insecurity and food deserts,” according to the bill analysis.
In order for a municipality to offer tax abatements for a grocery store at least 20,000 square feet in size to be built in a food desert – defined as areas identified as food deserts in the federal Food Access Research Atlas (FARA)– there must be a labor peace agreement with a bona fide labor organization.
In exchange, the state “may, within available appropriations, give financial assistance to the municipality up to the amount of taxes it has abated.”
In Connecticut, Stop & Shop grocery stores are unionized, as well as a number of Shop Rites, several ACME Markets and a couple other stores in Stamford, Greenwich and Bridgeport, which are all represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW).
The budgetary language, like the original bill, also includes another nod to state unions, defining a grocery store as one constructed under the state’s prevailing wage standards, which set the wages and benefits for workers and is required for most publicly funded projects but often sidelines private, non-union contractors.
The original bill received widespread support in public testimony, but the labor peace agreement language was added in as part of the joint favorable substitute, after several labor leaders advocated for the change.
“If a developer is going to receive tax money to build, we should make sure that the jobs being created in the construction and the operation of those developments are family sustaining ones,” said Keri Hoehne, executive vice president of UFCW Local 371 in written testimony. “The bill partially does that by requiring retailers to pay prevailing wages to the workers who build their buildings. However, the bill must contain the second important piece, which is requiring any company receiving public money to operate to also sign a labor peace agreement.”
The bill was passed in the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis 136-14 but did not receive a vote by the Senate.
“This hits the areas of the state of Connecticut where there are not stores that people can get to where there is not transportation,” said Rep. Jay Case, R-Winchester, during discussion on the House floor. “When we look at it we want everybody to have the ability to get to these stores.”
According to FARA and CT Insider, roughly 8 percent of Connecticut’s census tracts are considered food deserts, including cities and some rural areas.
The term “food deserts,” however, is no longer used by the United States Department of Agriculture, replacing it with “low-income and low-access” to more accurately reflect what is measured in FARA.
Grocery stores smaller than 20,000 square feet will not be subject to the labor peace agreement provision, according to the House floor discussion.