Employees at Market of Choice grocery in Southeast Portland are speaking up after repeatedly being sent home from work for wearing "Black Lives Matter" pins.
In a letter sent to Market of Choice management Monday, employees at the SE Belmont store expressed their frustration with not being able to express their support of Black Lives Matter while working.
"We were told that the company wishes to maintain a 'relaxing' and comfortable environment, while the black and brown members of our community are subjected to violence in all forms every day," the letter reads.
Conrad Ronk, who works as a pizza chef at the store, is one of the nine employees who signed the letter.
Ronk told the Mercury that on Thursday, June 25, six employees were sent home for wearing Black Lives Matter pins. "Since then, certain managers have been upholding the policy, sending people home each day," said Ronk, who was sent home Monday for refusing to remove a BLM pin during his shift.
Ronk says the message employees are getting from management conflicts with the public-facing message that Market of Choice's CEO Rick Wright has shared expressing support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here's the text of that message, shared on Market of Choice's Facebook page:
Wright's message rings hollow to some of the store's employees.
"We believe that it's not enough to simply make a performative public relations statement without a foundation of action or real solidarity," their letter reads. "It's also not nearly enough to simply wear buttons. All of us need to be having conversations and taking action right now, and a basic showing of solidarity in the workplace is merely the beginning."
Employees were first informed of this dress code rule last week, when staff at one of the company's Eugene stores were told to remove and replace masks with "Black Lives Matter" printed on them. Since then, Market of Choice employees have held protests outside of their employer's Eugene locations, urging shoppers to boycott the high-end grocery store until the company changes its policy.
A Market of Choice spokesperson responded to the Mercury's request for comment with an emailed statement, which specifically addressed masks—not pins.
"Not allowing employees to wear a Black Lives Matter mask is simply a dress code issue, similar to most other retailers," the statement reads. "Employees who don’t follow the dress code are asked to make necessary changes. Specifically, if a teammate’s mask doesn’t comply with the dress code, they are offered an alternative mask in order to remain in the work environment."
This news coincides with a similar outcry from Portland Burgerville employees who have been barred from wearing their own Black Lives Matter buttons while at work. Workers are, however, allowed to wear Burgerville-produced Black Lives Matter pins. On Friday, members of the Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) picketed outside of the chain's Montavilla store to protest the company's ban.
These corporate bans aren't limited to Oregon. Employees at Whole Foods, Taco Bell, Publix, and Starbucks have been penalized, sent home, or fired for refusing to take off Black Lives Matter face masks or buttons, citing dress code violations. Starbucks reversed their ban a week after employees raised concerns.