RELEASE: Report Reveals "Family Company" Giant Eagle Has Slashed Wages, Plummeted in Customer Service Rankings

Giant Eagle’s poverty wage jobs leave many Pennsylvania workers dependent on public assistance, belying its reputation as a good corporate citizen


PITTSBURGH – At a press conference in front the Squirrel Hill Giant Eagle this morning, Keystone Research Center released a new report titled "The Right Choice for Giant Eagle and Western Pennsylvania: A Partnership with Workers That Improves People's Everyday Lives and Well-Being." The report profiles the company and its history and outlines the opportunity Giant Eagle has in 2018 contract negotiations to restore a partnership with workers that lives up to the company's history and reputation as a family store.

Family-owned Giant Eagle, established more than 80 years ago, was once a company that provided middle-class careers to its frontline employees. The company still touts itself as a good corporate citizen and does provide important charity to the Pittsburgh region and beyond. And yet in its primary role as an employer, Giant Eagle today falls short of this label, creating thousands of poverty wage jobs with many of its Pennsylvania workers dependent on public assistance.

"The impact of Giant Eagle goes beyond the company's own workers and consumers," said report co-author and economist Dr. Stephen Herzenberg. "As the market leader, the company sets a pattern for the regional grocery industry and provides a model for other service industries. If Giant Eagle can restore its partnership with workers and the region, it would be a big step forward in broadening Pittsburgh's new prosperity."

Before 1980, Giant Eagle provided family-sustaining careers, workers felt respected by managers, and company jobs were much sought after. In the early 1980s, Giant Eagle slashed real wages in half or more - to about $8 per hour (in 2016 dollars) for new cashiers and clerks, and $15 per hour for meat cutters previously paid nearly $30 per hour. Starting wages went from near or above the Pennsylvania median wage in 1979 to about half the median in 2017, a staggering plunge. And, nearly two thirds of Giant Eagle workers (62%) work part-time today, compared to 50% of all Pennsylvania grocery workers.  

"I've been working for Giant Eagle for 12 years. I love my job. I love the people I work with, and I love my customers. But I still have to go to a food bank because I don't make enough to pay my rent, pay my bills, and afford food. One time at the food bank, a volunteer handed me a Nature's Basket roast. Whenever I go to buy meat, I never look at Nature's Basket; I can't afford a Nature's Basket roast. That's the irony of working for a company whose meat I can't even afford to buy," said Liliane Miles, a long-time Giant Eagle employee. Miles continued: "All I ask is that Giant Eagle pay me enough to live and not to just survive. That's all I want."

Giant Eagle, as the largest regional chain, spearheaded the transformation of grocery jobs from middle-class to poverty-wage. But according to the report, Giant Eagle still has a chance to reset its relationship with its workers and its home region by employing a good-jobs strategy like Trader Joe's: paying better wages that will also restore good customer service. One key step would be to increase its entry-level wages to roughly the level of 39 years ago - at least $15 per hour.

"A generation ago, when I was completing my education, I worked full-time in a grocery store, earned a living wage, bought a home, and was able to provide health care for my family. But today, it is not possible for a grocery employee to live a life of dignity. Our faith calls us to seek justice wherever there is injustice, and to care for the poor and the hungry. That is exactly what we're asking Giant Eagle to do. They need to raise wages and make sure that none of their employees have to depend on public assistance or visit a food bank," said Rev. Dr. Vincent Kolb, of 6th Presbyterian Church and the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN). "Giant Eagle is the largest grocery store in the area. They set the standard, but for too long they've set the standard too low. They can do better."

An investment in the dignity of Giant Eagle's workforce would signal to communities in Pittsburgh and beyond that the company really stands behind its mission statement that "Together, we improve people's everyday lives and well-being."