Workers at New Seasons’ Seven Corners store in Southeast Portland officially moved to unionize Friday after filing paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board. Store employees say they want to form a union to have a voice in company negotiations, particularly when it comes to wages and benefits.
“The last two years have been extraordinarily difficult for everyone, and especially for us grocery workers, forced as we were onto the front lines of an unprecedented and dangerous set of circumstances,” a press release from store organizers said Friday. “We all arrived at the same conclusion: we need a union if our voices are ever going to be heard by company leadership.”
Employee efforts to form a union at New Seasons started in 2017 when workers at the grocer’s North Portland store rallied outside of the building with UFCW 555—a union representing over 29,000 workers in Oregon. At the time, store employees said they were concerned with the direction the company was headed as it grew into a larger local chain. Since opening its first location in Southwest Portland in 2000, New Seasons has turned into a West Coast chain with 19 stores in the Portland-Vancouver area and three more are expected to open within the next year. Workers also were concerned with changes to the company’s healthcare coverage that increased the number of hours employees had to work per week if they wanted to qualify.
Following the unionizing attempts, New Seasons hired a “union avoidance” consultant to squash the organizing efforts.
New Seasons has long branded itself as a “progressive workplace.” According to the company website, Portland workers have a $16.25 starting wage—about $2 more than the required minimum wage in the Portland Metro area—and what they call a “robust healthcare plan.” The company also highlights its “speak up culture” that encourages employees to share feedback with their leadership team.
New Seasons employees, however, say that the speak up culture has not resulted in the changes they have long lobbied for.
A New Seasons employee and organizer with the union effort—who asked to go unnamed due to the possibility of retaliation—said that previous concerns with healthcare coverage and wages, in addition to worker protections during the pandemic, prompted the latest effort to unionize. According to the employee, New Seasons’ wage increases have not kept up with inflation, and while the company’s starting wage is higher than Portland’s minimum wage, it’s not a living wage. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, a living wage for a single adult with no children in the Portland area is $20.84 per hour.
After the failed attempt to unionize in 2017, employees at the Seven Corners location opted to form an independent union called New Seasons Labor Union as opposed to partnering with an already established organization. The choice was partly inspired by the first Amazon warehouse union earlier this year which was also created independently by workers.
“The workers who were around last time felt like [UFCW Local 555] did not hear them and felt like workers did not particularly have a voice,” an organizer said. “We decided that the best way for us to be heard was for us to represent ourselves.”
Employees said that they anticipate a strong anti-union effort from New Seasons, similar to 2017. New Seasons representatives did not immediately respond to the Mercury’s request for comment.
“We also urge New Seasons to bear in mind that "The Friendliest Store In Town" can continue to exist as such only with the friendliest workers in town—and happy workers are friendly workers,” organizers said in a press release. “We are not happy right now. But we will be with a worker-led union.”