Grocery workers at Fred Meyer and Quality Food Centers stores across Oregon began a weeklong strike Friday morning, alleging the grocery chains are unlawfully withholding key information at the bargaining table.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 said the strike would continue until Dec. 24, squeezing the grocery chains through the end of the year’s busiest shopping season. Fred Meyer and QFC, which are both owned by the nation’s largest supermarket chain, Kroger, said stores would remain open.
The two sides have been negotiating new contracts since July, according to the union, which is representing 7,000 workers at the bargaining table. The contracts expired in August.
Eleven picketers paced East Burnside in a dense fog Friday morning outside the QFC at Southeast 55th Avenue. With temperatures in the 30s, strikers said they had been walking the picket line since 6 a.m. The dozen striking employees outside handily outnumbered the early-morning customers inside the store, but shelves appeared stocked and at least a dozen employees were staffing the checkout lines or working in other parts of the store.
A couple miles away, at the Hawthorne Fred Meyer, a dozen striking workers gathered outside each entrance to the main parking lot and a handful of others carried picket signs along Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. Shoppers were few, shortly before 9 a.m., but picketers outside said mornings are often slow and so it was too soon to judge whether customers are staying away because of the strike.
Members of UFC Local 555 voted last week to authorize an unfair labor practices strike after union leaders say company management failed to provide the union with salary data. Union negotiators say they’re entitled to the information under federal labor laws and that they believe the companies are failing to pay certain workers the hourly wage they’re supposed to receive under the current union contract.
The union is pushing for bigger pay raises for more employees.
“Fred Meyer’s callous disregard for their own essential workers is stunning considering the sacrifice these employees have made throughout the pandemic,” Sandy Humphrey, secretary treasurer of UFCW Local 555, said in a statement. “While so many were able to stay safely in their own homes, essential grocery workers showed up to work helping feed our communities. These employers should recognize their sacrifice by treating these workers with the basic respect they deserve.”
Fred Meyer and QFC leaders say they’ve complied with labor laws and put forward an offer that includes $36 million in added pay, $5 million more in pension contributions and $30 million in healthcare contributions, which would keep plan costs unchanged for employees. It says its Oregon store employees currently earn an average of $17.29 an hour.
“Our offer respects our associates by significantly investing in their compensation,” Dennis Gibson, Fred Meyer’s president, said in a statement. “This includes a $36 million investment in pay raises, health care coverage and a stable retirement – while keeping groceries affordable.”
The union and management from Fred Meyer and QFC continued negotiations this week but didn’t reach an agreement on the bargaining issues before Friday’s strike began.
Miles Eshaia, a spokesperson for the union, said he expects thousands of workers on Friday to picket outside Fred Meyer and QFC stores in the Portland metro area, Newberg, Bend and Klamath Falls.
Fred Meyer has in recent days begun advertising for temporary workers in case of a strike.
An unfair labor practices strike is different — and often easier to resolve — than the better-known economic strike for concessions such as pay increases or benefits. Workers in an unfair labor practices strike cannot be permanently replaced, according to the National Labor Relations Board.
Fred Meyer faced a potential strike during contract negotiations in 2019, when grocery workers authorized a strike and urged customers to boycott the stores, but the two sides reached an agreement a week later and averted the strike.
— Jamie Goldberg