The Portland-based grocery New Seasons (think Whole Foods lite) has begun its expansion into Puget Sound. The company has opened in Mercer Island, will open in Ballard and the Central District next year, and has been in talks with the developer working on the housing and retail project that will someday exist on top of the Capitol Hill light rail station at Broadway and Denny.
At nearly every step of the way, New Seasons has faced backlash from local unions.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 has led a campaign against the company. In Mercer Island, UFCW 21 hosted an "unwelcome ceremony" for the new store. In response to the Central District plans, a letter signed by unions, several city council members, mayoral candidate Cary Moon, and city council candidate Teresa Mosqueda criticized the company for gentrification as well as its employee benefits and working conditions. In Capitol Hill, labor and community groups sent regional leaders a letter saying New Seasons creates "an anti-union climate" in its stores and could undermine nearby unionized stores.
Now, workers at New Seasons' Portland locations want to unionize.
With the support of a UFCW local, Portland New Seasons workers publicized their effort last week. They say changes to the threshold of hours employees must work to receive health insurance will reduce their access to coverage. They also complain about the company's attendance policy and its communication with its employees. The company has defended its practices, including changes to its health insurance policies. Read more about workers' concerns and the company's response in The Oregonian.
Could a unionizing drive in Portland help Seattle's future New Seasons workers? That remains unclear.
Workers in Portland will determine whether to form a collective bargaining unit and who they hope the unit will include, says Joe Mizrahi, political and public policy director for UFCW 21, but "the efforts in Portland are very much linked to the Seattle New Seasons Market workers because in both places they are asking for access to information about collective bargaining without intimidation."
Two grocery workers from PCC and Central Co-op (both represented by UFCW 21) say in this video that they were kicked out of the New Seasons in Mercer Island in June for attempting to educate workers about their rights. Mizrahi says "the vast majority of grocery chains" in both Seattle and Portland "allow for this information."
"That means New Seasons Market needs to stop ordering managers to block conversations between their employees and other unionized grocery store workers," Mizrahi says.
New Seasons declined to comment for this story.