Now that workers at seven New Seasons Market stores have voted over the past five months to join New Seasons Labor Union, the union’s bargaining team has begun meeting with management to negotiate a first contract. NSLU and management met for bargaining over Zoom on Jan. 10 and 25. Management is represented by attorneys from Ogletree Deakins, while NSLU is being represented by Portland labor lawyer Katelyn Oldham.
The first two sessions focused on setting ground rules for bargaining. They’re negotiating over how much access workers will have to the bargaining sessions: how many observers can attend, whether the sessions can be recorded to share with workers who can’t make it, whether management will grant time off for workers on the bargaining team to be able to attend sessions. One important point of agreement: NSLU and New Seasons management agree they’re bargaining a contract that covers all stores represented by NSLU, rather than bargaining separate contracts for each store.
Mini-strike at Woodstock
As bargaining progresses, workers are also making their voices heard in other ways. At the Woodstock New Seasons, where workers voted to unionize in December, cashiers closed their registers for several minutes mid-shift on Jan. 25, and as a group presented a demand to store management.
Woodstock worker and NSLU organizer Jane Jacobs told the Labor Press the action was a response to management’s move to implement “task-based scheduling” in mid-January. It’s a system that assigns workers shifts based on how much demand there is for certain tasks at certain times. New Seasons says the goal is “getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time doing the right work,” according to company literature shared with employees. But for some workers, it means changes to longstanding schedules. Workers who didn’t work weekends before report that they’re being scheduled for both weekend days, and if that doesn’t work, they may lose hours.
Jacobs and other organizers contacted workers via an email list and mass text, created a survey to gauge how workers felt about the schedule changes, and came up with the plan to close registers and present a demand letter to Woodstock store managers. The Woodstock organizing committee edited the demand letter as a group. Jacobs spoke with workers in various departments the day before the action. On Jan. 25, the organizing committee met in the store’s receiving department five minutes ahead of the action. They distributed copies of the demand letter and walked to the front of the store. Jacobs made an announcement on the store’s intercom system: “Hello New Seasons Market customers! We would like to ask you for your patience and understanding as our cashiers close our registers for the next 10 minutes. Thank you for your support of Woodstock New Seasons and its employees as we continue to learn about and exercise our rights as a newly unionized cohort.”
She asked store managers and any fellow workers to join the cashiers at the front of the store. Jacobs said 35 to 50 people gathered for the action. In their demand letter, Woodstock workers wrote that their individual department managers are most able to assess scheduling needs, rather than the corporate office. They asked the company to return scheduling authority to department managers until the policy can be negotiated over in bargaining.
One of three store managers accepted the demand letter and listened to the workers, while the others began running a cash register and bagging groceries.