Workers at a third New Seasons grocery store have joined the burgeoning labor organizing efforts. On Thursday, employees at the grocery chain's Sellwood location filed a petition to join the New Seasons Labor Union (NSLU) with the National Labor Relations Board on Thursday.
"We're tired of being unable to bring any issues to management," said Jakob Parsons, a grocery clerk at the Sellwood store. "It’s accepted among workers that, if you try, you’re not going to be listened to in a serious way."
Parsons, who has worked at New Seasons for a year, said he and his colleagues have been talking about the possibility of unionizing for a few months—but their interest grew as soon as they heard that workers at New Seasons' Seven Corners location—on SE Division and 19th—filed a union petition in late May. Not long after, Sellwood workers reached out to the Seven Corners staff to learn how they could join the effort.
There are several reasons Sellwood workers hope to unionize. For one, it's the company's seemingly expedited grounds for termination over coming in late to work. Parsons said that being six minutes late to a work shift is treated the same way as missing an entire day of work. If a worker is a few minutes late five times in a 30-day period, they could be fired. In an email to the Mercury, a New Seasons spokesperson wrote that no one has been fired for this particular reason, "so these concerns are unfounded."
Parsons said this disproportionately impacts workers who rely on public transportation, which has grown unreliable in recent months, or those who have kids they need to drop off before work. This also becomes a problem for people who are sick but haven't accrued enough paid time off to take a day or two off of work (New Seasons does not offer sick day coverage to its employees—it instead suggests workers use Paid Time Off [PTO] days to cover sick days).
"A lot of our coworkers are afraid to call out sick," said Parsons. "We'd rather come in to work sick than risk being fired."
Workers also want to see stable benefit plans, instead of ones that change frequently and leave them forced to seek more expensive and scarce medical care. New Seasons Sellwood grocery clerk Ash Thwing would like to see management take inappropriate comments and microaggressions against marginalized workers more seriously. Thwing, who is transgender, said that she doesn't see management taking actions that result in genuine accountability for people who make microagressions against herself and her queer coworkers.
"When we say anything, we just see management make small efforts to keep things copacetic," said Thwing, who has worked at New Seasons for six months. "It's not taken seriously."
Sellwood workers haven't heard back from management since filing their labor petition last week. But, they were warned about joining a union by their superiors in the weeks leading up to the decision. A June 14 letter sent to all New Seasons staff by Corey Routh, the vice president of New Seasons' human resources division, urged workers to be cautious about signing any union documents.
"A union card can be a legal document," Routh wrote. "By signing one, you generally give the union the right to speak on your behalf about important employment matters."
"Once you sign the card," he continued, "it can be difficult to get it back if you change your mind."
Casting the movement in this ominous light echoes a prior letter penned by New Seasons CEO Nancy Lebold, which suggests workers may be misled about the benefits of a union by their coworkers. Lebold said that, based on her experience in leadership in other companies, she believes a union is "unnecessary" at a "progressive and independent" store like New Seasons. New Seasons is owned by a massive South Korean corporation called Emart, which controls the grocery chain through a US affiliate called Good Food Holdings.
Routh's letter came out weeks after two New Seasons stores filed to unionize—the Seven Corners shop and a store in Hillsboro. He suggested that workers wait and see the outcomes of those stores' unionizing efforts before joining in the movement.
But Sellwood staff weren't turned off by the messaging. Thwing said that there were enough workers excited about the possibility to unionize that it felt clear they needed to file a petition as soon as possible.
"There's a lot of excitement right now," she said.
Parsons said that watching the recent movement among Starbucks employees to unionize countered the union-busting narratives from New Seasons management.
"We've been told for so long by corporate management that that unions are hard and complicated and not going to help us," he said. "But seeing Starbucks workers create independent unions and accomplish what we were told was impossible—that is the motivation we needed."
Update, July 5:
Following this story's publication, a New Seasons spokesperson negated the workers' concerns in an email to the Mercury, calling employees "the heart of our business."
"From the time our company was founded in 1999, our mission and values have remained unchanged," they wrote. "They are rooted in taking care of our staff first and foremost. Regardless of any representation decision taken, we will continue to prioritize the wellbeing of our staff and remain an organization dedicated to serving the community. "