By Don McIntosh
The right of workers to speak to the CEO is a “sacred value” at New Seasons Market, CEO Wendy Collie wrote to employees. Yet Collie, a former Starbucks executive, has so far snubbed a group of workers who asked for a meeting. Supporters of the brand-new New Seasons Workers United union visited corporate headquarters Nov. 1 to present a letter and petition signed by 260 New Seasons workers asking her to agree to principles of neutrality — and to call UFCW Local 555 organizing director Peter Diaz by Nov. 21 to set up a meeting.
Collie didn’t give pro-union workers the courtesy of a reply, but she did react later that day — with a letter posted in stores. The letter asserts that “speaking up” is “a value we hold dear.”
“You’re welcome to talk directly with me, with your management team, or with anyone in HR,” Collie wrote. [Just not as a group, apparently, or not as New Seasons Workers United.]
In its letter to Collie, New Seasons Workers United asked that New Seasons sign a five-part proposed code of conduct:
- Sit down with us, discuss our concerns, and begin to map a shared path forward
- Publicly commit to respect workers’ right to organize and not oppose these efforts
- Publicly commit to not hire “union busting” firms whose purpose is to undermine our efforts
- Comply with federal, state, and local labor laws
- Rehire with full back pay any worker terminated because of their involvement in worker-led efforts to improve standards at New Seasons
That last item wasn’t hypothetical. In charges filed Nov. 17 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Local 555 alleges that New Seasons unlawfully terminated a worker for supporting a union campaign.
Adrian Mendoza, a deli worker at the North Williams New Seasons store, heard about the union effort over the summer and became an enthusiastic supporter, talking with co-workers and getting more than 20 of them to sign a petition. Then on Sept. 21, CEO Collie and New Seasons “Chief People Officer” Kristi McFarland met with Mendoza personally at his workplace and heard his concerns about the company. Less than two weeks later, he was terminated. Mendoza says he was told he was fired for having created a hostile work environment, and because his presence was making coworkers uncomfortable.
“I’ve always been very vocal at work,” Mendoza says.
Presumably New Seasons will argue, when the NLRB pursues its investigation, that Mendoza was terminated for reasons other than union involvement.
By mid-November, store managers were pulling workers in one by one to present another letter from the CEO, describing Local 555 as “an outside organization.” “This union would seek to speak, act, and make decisions on your behalf,” Collie wrote. “We always want our conversations to be directly with you.”
New Seasons also always wants to be transparent, Collie said in the letter — yet the company’s designated media contact would neither confirm nor deny that New Seasons has hired the union avoidance consultants Cruz & Associates — the same firm that Oregon window manufacturer Jeld-Wen hired last year to bust a union campaign by the Machinists union.
On Nov. 21, small delegations of prounion workers, joined by union and community supporters, visited four New Seasons stores and asked to speak with store managers.
“Portland is a strong union community,” Laborers Local 483 representative Ted Bryan told the manager of the Seven Corners store. “The community is going to be paying attention to how New Seasons responds to their workers.”
“At this point all we’re asking the CEO to do is call and set up a meeting,” said Marty Hendark, an employee at the Hawthorne Boulevard New Seasons. “We’re asking that they live up to the ‘speak-up’ culture she proudly touts.”
HOW TO SHOW SOLIDARITY: New Seasons Workers United is asking supporters to call New Seasons CEO Wendy Collie at 503-473-8720 and ask her not to retaliate against workers for organizing a union. You can also keep up with the latest developments by liking the campaign’s Facebook page here.