When the previous union liaison for Food Front—a cooperative grocery store on NW Thurman—retired about three months ago, employees had to appoint a new liaison to represent them. But no one wanted the job.
"It brought up the issue—do we really want unions to be here?" says Andrea Uehara, a Food Front employee of about 20 years.
Some pro-union workers within Food Front are attempting to get the petition withdrawn, says Ric Ball, collective bargaining director for UFCW Local 555. Uehara confirms that a petition calling for a withdrawal is circulating around Food Front, but she says no one has signed it yet. If they succeed, then the union can open contract negotiations with Food Front management and attempt to show how employees would benefit from retaining the union.
"From our position, it's a little short-sighted not to take the opportunity to bargain a contract first," says Ric Ball, collective bargaining director for UFCW, Local 555.
But employees cited several reasons for de-unionizing.
One is that relations have improved with management in the past few years, Uehara says. UFCW first started representing Food Front employees about 10 years ago in response to concerns about the store's then-new manager. Uehara says the staff trusts management now to do what's right for employees.
And Arabee Koch, a Food Front employee of eight years, says the UFCW hasn't done enough for the employees to justify keeping union representation. Koch says the union only impedes negotiations with management, whom she credits with improvements in employee wages and benefits.
"The only times we've ever seen the union is when they come to collect their dues... we're not getting anything out of [the relationship]," Koch says, adding that the $360 each non-management employee pays in union dues every year could be used to supplement their annual incomes instead.
Not every employee thinks ending the relationship is a good idea. Joe Lamb, a Food Front employee of four years, says keeping the union guarantees equal treatment and raises. If the employees go non-union, raises could be issued arbitrarily and irregularly at the whims of management, Lamb says.
Koch argues that co-ops don't need unions like corporations do because co-ops share the benefits equally among its members.
"No one here is getting rich," Koch says.