Union grocery workers and their supporters “unwelcomed” the Mercer Island New Seasons store with music, balloons and a bread breaking ceremony on Nov. 10. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Mercer Island New Seasons runs into controversy in new community

As New Seasons Market opened in Mercer Island on Nov. 10, groups protesting the store’s alleged anti-union policies held an “unwelcome” ceremony for the Portland-based grocer that emphasizes regional, organic food.

“It’s not about quinoa, it’s not about rice. It’s about workers and their rights,” was one of the chants of the unionized grocery store workers, members of UFCW 21, and community organizations such as Puget Sound Sage and Washington Community Action Network that gathered Thursday morning.

As CEO Wendy Collie broke challah inside the store to celebrate the opening of the first New Seasons outside Portland, union grocery workers and their supporters held a bread breaking ceremony of their own, accompanied by music and balloons.

The purpose was “to let the public know about New Seasons’ record of safety violations and union-busting,” according to a press release from UCFW 21, the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Seattle area grocery store workers noted that without a union contract the Mercer Island, New Seasons employees will have to work twice as many hours to qualify for health benefits as the union workers at the QFC across the street, and those benefits will cost them three times as much, according to the release.

“We want New Seasons workers to have the same rights and benefits we have,” Mercer Island QFC worker Jason Andaya stated in the release.

In her remarks during the opening ceremony, Collie noted that New Seasons promotes a people-first and “speak up culture” for its employees.

“Our people are empowered to speak up, shape our culture, and be involved in decisions that affect them,” according to the New Seasons website.

Store manager Jennie Lea said that New Seasons employees have competitive pay and stable schedules.

New Seasons “offers progressive employee benefits including health benefits to staff who work [30] hours a week or more as well as benefits for partners and dependents, a unique profit share program, lifestyle scheduling, 20 percent store discount, training, educational and career advancement opportunities,” according to a press release sent shortly after the announcement that a store would be opening in Mercer Island.

The store has seen some controversy since announcing its expansion. Many Island residents campaigned for a PCC to replace the Albertsons at 2755 77th Ave. SE, before the lease with New Seasons was announced. The PCC supporters then petitioned the Mercer Island City Council to support their “local food, local grocers, local workers” message by passing a grocery workers retention ordinance to keep the union-represented, former Albertsons workers employed at the new store, though the council decided not to adopt it.

New Seasons will open a store in Ballard next fall and is rumored to be vying for a Capitol Hill location in a transit-oriented development near the new light rail station. Several community and labor groups expressed concerns about the store in a letter sent to the Sound Transit Board last December, which can be found on the UFCW 21 website at www.ufcw21.org/community-letter-to-sound-transit.

Unionized grocers in the area include Kroger (owner of Fred Meyer and QFC), Albertsons, Safeway, Haggen, PCC, Central Co-op and Metropolitan Market. The latter three were suggested as options for the Capitol Hill development.

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