Big Y invests up to $10 million in general raises for retail workers (Point of View)

Make no mistake about it, running a supermarket (or dozens of them) is a “people business”.

This is one of the key lessons Charles L. D’Amour remembers his late father, Gerald E. D’Amour, passed on to him over the years as he rose through the ranks to become president and CEO. management of the family business Big Y Aliments.

Big Y, in business for 86 years, is people-driven, from its hundreds of thousands of customers to its nearly 11,000 employees. Nearly a third of the workforce has more than 10 years of service, and more than half – 7,409 people – have worked for Big Y for more than five years.

This is one of the reasons why, effective immediately, starting pay rates for all clerks, customer service, fresh produce and central store specialists, and managers department assistants, will be increased.

This will mean wage increases across the board for some 7,600 employees, nearly three-quarters of Big Y’s retail workforce. It will cost the company between $8 million and $10 million. dollars.

Pay rates are too diverse and vary widely by position, seniority and other factors, to list the specifics, but D’Amour shared that “some raises are significant.” Senior executives are not among those receiving pay raises.

All but one of the job classes within the company had starting wage rates that already exceeded minimum wage rates in Massachusetts ($14.25 an hour) and Connecticut (which will rise from $13 to $14 per hour on July 1). Now, all Big Y retail employees will be paid above minimum wage in both states.

John Mastrangelo of Springfield is among those who will see their paychecks rise in the coming week, and he said he was “really excited” when news of the move made the rounds. “It makes things much easier. This will make paying bills much easier with the cost of living and everything being much higher.

Mastrangelo, who is assistant frozen dairy manager at Fresh Acres Market in Springfield, has been with the company since 2015. “They have great benefits. They have a very good corporate culture. It’s a great company to work for with lots of room for growth.

Big Y had been reviewing its salary grids with the goal of updating (and increasing) them as the world emerged from the pandemic and before the final realities of inflation set in, according to D’Amour. The company has 71 supermarkets, the Table & Wine Fine Wines and Liquors and 13 Big Y Express gas and convenience stores.

This isn’t the first time Big Y has taken steps to recognize the loyalty of its employees amid the pandemic. In March 2020, as the COVID-19 shutdowns took hold and panic buying unfolded, Big Y decided to raise wages for all of its hourly employees by $2 an hour. At that time, D’Amour said of his roster: “These people are on the front lines, handling things on a heroic level. We have to take care of these people. »

Also in 2020, all stores were closed for two days around key holidays like Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving to give workers extended breaks.

Between then and now, D’Amour said he has never ceased to be impressed by what Big Y workers have accomplished, their ingenuity, their resilience and their attentiveness to the needs and concerns of their customers.

“We are quite a complex company. Our people have worked very, very hard since the start of the pandemic,” D’Amour said. “We had staffing issues. We had supply chain issues.

“As my father often told me, ‘It’s a people thing.’ We ask a lot of our people, and this was an opportunity to show them that we appreciate them,” added D’Amour. “We like to think of ourselves as a caring company.”

This sense of benevolence shines through when D’Amour refers to salary increases as an investment rather than an additional expense. “I’m a big believer in investing in relationships,” he said. “It’s a way of saying we understand the work they’ve done and appreciate what they’ve been through.”

This includes some somewhat disturbing fallout happening on the front lines in supermarkets. Workers now face negative treatment from customers unhappy with the rising cost of their groceries, D’Amour noted.

“The vast majority of our customers are wonderful, lovely people,” he said. “But there are people who are not nice to our frontline workers.”

During a recent roundtable with employees, D’Amour heard of incidents where “customers were just mean. It’s a relatively small percentage, but it happens. Our frontline workers have gone from being heroes to being blamed for inflation.

Overall, though, he said, Big Y employees are united as teams within each store, and the feedback he’s received is pretty much that shared by Mastrangelo.

As a company, Big Y has held one-on-one “career path meetings” for over 3,000 employees so far. The company has also created employee resource groups in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, and leadership development for women. It also pilots internship programs with area colleges to help bolster its workforce with local talent.

Cynthia G. Simison is editor-in-chief of The Republican. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

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