Improved healthcare benefits and safer working conditions were among the top concerns voiced at a New Seasons Market employee rally in Portland, Ore., on Wednesday. Workers at the fast-growing grocery chain organized to win a union response to the treatment toward employees following the company’s purchase by the private equity firm Endeavour Capital in 2009.
Located outside the chain’s Williams store, dozens of New Seasons Market workers were joined by local community leaders and residents to detail how the company has reportedly silenced its employees’ voice on the job. Workers delivered a letter to New Seasons Market president and CEO Wendy Collie, requesting management meet with employees to discuss improving work conditions in the stores and agreeing to a code of conduct toward workers’ right to organize.
“We know New Seasons wants to be a leader in the community, and that means giving workers a seat at the table and respecting our input on the job,” said Isaac Byrd, a worker at New Seasons Market. “By working together, we can help New Seasons live up to its founding principles to ensure that the workers and company both succeed.”
In October, New Seasons eliminated health insurance for nearly 150 employees by increasing the number of hours required for part-time workers to receive coverage. In a statement sent to Winsight Grocery Business, New Seasons said when the company was founded in 2000, employees that worked as few as eight hours per week were eligible for benefits. But because of regulatory changes, the company began requiring employees to work 20 hours or more per week to quality for health insurance. "The minimum 24 hours a week for benefits goes into effect in 2018, and the change is being made alongside an offer for all staff to work the required minimum hours so all those who wish to have benefits have the opportunity," New Seasons said.
New Seasons employees also voiced concerns about implemented policies that disproportionately affect working parents and often require employees to work while sick. However, the company denies this claim. "As a food business, New Seasons asks that employees never work when sick, and provides workers with protected sick time to do so," New Seasons said. "It’s progressive employment practices are designed to support all staff, including working parents."
New Seasons employees stated that reduced staffing levels in recent years has reportedly increased the risk of health and safety violations and accidents, such as knife injuries, back strains, slips and falls, burns from hot oil and steam, and undercooked food. The company does not provide tools and resources for older or differently-abled workers to safely complete their work, claims of which the company also denied, stating that New Seasons operates in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, and other applicable state or local law for older adults and differently-abled workers.
“If New Seasons wants to do business here in Portland, it needs to respect the values of our community, and that means treating workers with respect and giving employees a say on the job,” said Will Layng, executive director of Portland Jobs with Justice. “It has become all too common today for powerful corporations to take advantage of workers and violate their rights. New Seasons has an opportunity to do the right thing by listening to its workers and respecting their right to organize to have a say over the conditions that affect them on the job.”
After opening its first store in Portland in 2000, New Seasons Market has expanded rapidly in the Pacific Northwest region. In 2009, it sold a majority stake to private equity firm Endeavour Capital, which now owns 60% of the chain, according to New Seasons.
Today, New Seasons operates 21 stores across Oregon, Washington and California, employing more than 4,000 workers. In 2017, the company announced plans to continue expanding, opening two new stores in Seattle and additional locations in Emeryville, Calif., and San Francisco.