By MALLORY GRUBEN
Workers at New Seasons Market say the company has borrowed a tactic from the anti-union playbook: improving conditions at non-union locations but not at union shops. In March, the grocery chain changed its attendance policy to cut in half the amount of time workers must wait to have their attendance records reset. Under the policy, workers would be fired for missing a shift or arriving late more than five times in six months. That’s down from a yearlong timeline.
“It’s a small change, but it’s something of a lifeline considering how harshly the attendance policy is written,” said Brian Berry, a bargaining team member with New Seasons Labor Union. NSLU is a new independent union that represents almost 980 workers at stores in the Portland metro area.
The updated policy only applies to stores that weren’t unionized, because it would be a change to “status quo” conditions that are locked in at union stores until workers bargain their first contract. That means seven of eight stores where NSLU represents workers remain under the old policy; the Hawthorne store won its union election with a 33-22 vote April 26, after the new policy was in place.
Companies can make changes to status quo with the agreement of the union, like in December, when NSLU agreed that New Seasons could give merit-based raises to workers. The union bargaining team figured the company would sign a similar agreement to extend the attendance policy to union shops — but their instinct was wrong.
“We were kind of caught off guard when our lawyer drafted the legal agreement, sent it to their lawyer, and we got a response that said they had no interest in signing it,” Berry said. The company told workers it doesn’t want to “piecemeal bargain,” even though the union hasn’t asked to have that policy in the final contract, he said.
On May 1, NSLU filed an unfair labor practice charge over the matter with the National Labor Relations Board. Workers also hope to sway management with a petition asking to extend the new policy companywide.
Uniform across-the-board, blanket attendance policy strikes me as the direct OPPOSITE of “piece-meal”.