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Grocery store workers have right to wear Black Lives Matter buttons

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QFC and Fred Meyer violated federal labor law when store officials prohibited workers from wearing union-sponsored Black Lives Matter buttons, according to a ruling by Region 19 of the National Labor Relations Board.

Seattle-based UFCW 21 announced in a Sept. 17 press release that the board informed the union of the ruling against both companies, which are owned by Kroger.

“Specifically, Region 19 (Alaska, Montana, Oregon and Washington) found merit in UFCW 21’s charges that Kroger violated the law by: 1) failing to bargain with the union over a change in workplace conditions – in this case the practice of allowing the wearing of buttons at work; and 2) prohibiting workers from taking action together – in this case, by wearing Black Lives Matter messages – to protest racism in the workplace and in society, generally,” according to the press release.

Seattle-based Region 19 will now seek a settlement agreement with Kroger, which would likely require a change to company policy, according to the union. If a settlement cannot be reached, Region 19 would typically issue a formal complaint and a trial would be held before an Administrative Law judge, whose ruling would be subject to an appeal to the NLRB in Washington D.C.

“This is very uplifting,” said Sam Dancy a front end supervisor at the Westwood Village QFC in West Seattle. “When workers were trying to speak out through these buttons and collectively say Black Lives Matter and Kroger said to take the buttons off, that was an insult. This decision is welcome news in our work to bring attention to social and racial injustice in the workplace and in our neighborhoods.”

A QFC spokesperson issued the following statement in a Sept. 17 email to the Kent Reporter.

“We look forward to reviewing the proposed settlement agreement,” according to the spokesperson. “Our company is unequivocal in standing with our Black associates, deeply listening and taking action to advance more diverse, inclusive and equitable communities.”

UFCW 21 President Faye Guenther released the following statement.

“In the wake of this welcome action by the NLRB, we are calling on Kroger to respect workers’ rights and take meaningful steps to address racial inequities in Kroger workplaces,” Guenther said. “Among other things, Kroger needs to do a better job of hiring and promoting African Americans at every level of the company and making it clear that it will not tolerate racism from customers or employees.”

After Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd on May 25, 2020, many UFCW 21 members working in grocery and retail stores chose to express their opposition to racism by wearing face masks (otherwise worn for protection from COVID-19) or other items bearing the Black Lives Matter slogan.

Although Kroger issued public statements expressing sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement, managers at Kroger-owned stores in Western Washington started ordering UFCW 21 members to remove Black Lives Matter masks in August 2020, according to the union press release.

UFCW 21 responded to the company’s Black Lives Matter ban by collaborating with Fred Meyer and QFC workers to distribute union-sponsored Black Lives Matter buttons with the UFCW 21 logo. When managers banned the union buttons, UFCW 21 filed charges in September 2020 with the National Labor Relations Board.

UFCW 21 represents over 46,000 workers at grocery stores, retail, health care and other industry jobs.

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Steve Hunter

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