New Seasons Market—the “B corporation” that paid union-busting consultants at least $325,000 to quell a 2017 union campaign—is being sold to a South Korean retail giant for an undisclosed sum, the company announced Dec. 10.
Endeavour Capital, New Seasons Market’s private equity owner, had long been rumored to be looking for a buyer. The new owner is Good Food Holdings, which was bought last year by South Korea’s largest retailer Emart, itself a part of The Shinsegae Group retail conglomerate.
Good Food Holdings owns the Seattle-based Metropolitan Market grocery chain and the California grocery chains Bristol Farms and Lazy Acres Natural Market. Metropolitan Market workers are represented by grocery union UFCW Local 21. New Seasons’ Seattle-area store on Mercer Island will be converted to a Metropolitan Market, its Ballard neighborhood store will close, and its plans for a new location in Seattle’s Central District will be scrapped. New Seasons’ plans to expand to Seattle faced stiff opposition from Local 21, which viewed it as an anti-union outsider trying to come into a well-established and heavily unionized grocery sector.
In the eyes of Portland-area union supporters, New Seasons’ ballyhooed “B Corp” status proved pretty worthless when workers tried to unionize in 2017. B Corp is a trademarked label signifying that a company meets high standards of social and environmental performance—based on company answers to an online questionnaire … and an annual fee paid to accrediting entity B Lab. But when the union effort launched, New Seasons fired several union supporters; hired the same union-busting consultant that fought union campaigns at Trump Hotel Las Vegas, American Apparel, and window maker Jeld-Wen; and held store-by-store anti-union meetings. The union effort fizzled in the wake of the anti-union campaign.
Portland Jobs With Justice issues a statement on the sale …
Remember founder Brian Rohter’s claim that New Seasons’ private equity owners would help the company become employee-owned? That’s not how it worked out.
For Immediate Release
December 10, 2019
Portland Jobs With Justice statement on impending sale of New Seasons Market
(Portland, OR) Portland Jobs With Justice is calling on the Portland-based grocery chain New Seasons Market to commit to respecting workers’ rights and listening to workers’ voices, following the company’s acknowledgement that it is being sold by private equity firm Endeavour Capital.
Over the last three years, Portland Jobs With Justice has provided support to New Seasons Market employees who say that working conditions at the company have deteriorated under Endeavour Capital’s ownership.
After hundreds of New Seasons workers raised concerns about working conditions and announced their intention to form a union in late 2017, New Seasons spent more than $300,000 to hire an aggressive union-busting consultant whose previous clients include the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas.
Today, some workers expressed frustration about the sale. “I’ve worked as a Grocery Clerk at Seven Corners for 14 years,” said April St. John. “My coworkers and I have seen many concerning changes since the founders of the company first sought investment from the private equity firm Endeavour Capital. It is regrettable that New Seasons did not include employees in their decision-making process. I was very disappointed to hear that we’d been sold again without our input to secure a buyer on board with the historic values of our community. My heart is hurting for my coworkers in Seattle that are losing their jobs, I don’t see any way this is good for workers. We’re calling on the company to work with us in this process and respect our rights as employees”.
Brian Rohter, one of the company’s founders and a former CEO, suggested in a 2009 blog post that Endeavour Capital would eventually help transition New Seasons to some form of employee and/or community ownership. In 2012, when Endeavour Capital became the majority owner, former New Seasons CEO Lisa Sedlar suggested New Seasons would likely achieve employee ownership within 5 years.
Workers and community members showed overwhelming support for employee ownership in an online survey sponsored by Portland Jobs With Justice, beginning in September 2019.
“Our community is fed up with business executives touting their progressive credentials while excluding workers and opposing worker organizations. We are disappointed that Endeavour Capital decided to sell New Seasons without giving workers an opportunity to consider employee ownership. We will continue to support New Seasons workers who want to have a meaningful voice in their workplace and we hope New Seasons will take the opportunity provided by this transition period to do the right thing and respect workers’ rights.” Said Will Layng, Executive Director of Portland Jobs With Justice.