By Don McIntosh
New Seasons Markets, after spending decades cultivating a feel-good image as a progressive employer, is now engaged in a full-fledged anti-union campaign led by a well-known union-busting firm. The campaign follows the classic union-busting template: holding anti-union meetings in the workplace, enlisting managers as anti-union ground troops, and, according to charges filed by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555, violations of federal labor law.
Three charges against New Seasons are now being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board. In the charges, Local 555 alleges that New Seasons violated the National Labor Relations Act when it fired union supporters Adrian Mendoza on Oct. 4 and Terra Bosart on Nov. 28. A third charge alleges that managers are interrogating and coercing workers, and telling them not to talk about the union organizing campaign.
A 2009 Oregon law says employers can’t require workers to attend anti-union meetings, but New Seasons workers interviewed for this article said they weren’t told the meetings were optional, or even what the meetings were about.
In communications with employees, New Seasons frequently touts its “speak-up” culture. But Amanda Birnbaum — a 14-year New Seasons employee who works as a cashier at the Concordia store — says she was shushed when she spoke up to defend the union campaign at one of the meetings led by a Cruz & Associates consultant.
“We’re becoming the company we say we’re not like,” Birnbaum told the Labor Press.
When Birnbaum asked why union advocates weren’t also given a chance to speak at these “informational” meetings, she says she was told if New Seasons let union organizers address workers, that would be supporting the union, which employers are barred from doing. [Not true.]
New Seasons now publicly acknowledges that it hired the firm Cruz & Associates. A new section of the company website says the firm was hired to provide “voluntary information sessions to offer objective information to our staff.”
In Birnbaum’s recollection, the information presented was that unions are “manipulative” “third parties” with their own agendas, chiefly collecting dues.
On its website, Cruz & Associates bills itself as “one of the nation’s leading labor relations firms” and says it helps businesses “respond immediately and effectively to union activity” by managing campaigns, preparing campaign materials, and training managers and supervisors. Past clients include the trucking company Conway, window manufacturer Jeld-Wen, Hilton hotels, American Apparel, and Trump Hotel Las Vegas.
That’s the company New Seasons is now keeping, and it’s not likely to improve the public image of the up-to-now fast-growing Portland natural foods chain.
On Dec. 7, New Seasons Workers United announced that some New Seasons employees have filed a complaint with the nonprofit that certified New Seasons as a “B Corp.” B Corp is a certification provided by the nonprofit B Lab that a company uses its business as a “force for good.” In their complaint to B Lab, the workers say New Seasons management has violated employees’ right to organize. They call on B Lab to investigate New Seasons compliance with its stated values, and if found in violation, to strip the company of its B Corp designation.
New Seasons, on its website, says it hasn’t retaliated against staff, or asked employees to refrain from discussing the unionization effort. And indeed, Mendoza was ostensibly fired for creating a hostile work environment, and Bosart was fired for lateness. [Bosart says that’s after she was put on six months probation for missing an optional on-the-clock “dismantling racism” class that she signed up for.]