Employees of the Oregon-founded grocery chain Fred Meyer could go on strike at any moment. All of the Fred Meyer warehouse workers represented by Teamsters Local 117 have voted to authorize a strike, related to contract negotiations and the company’s COVID-related safety policies. If the union strikes, it could cause food distribution disruptions at 180 grocery stores across Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska.
In a 335-0 vote, the union agreed to potentially call for a work stoppage as early as yesterday, as a response to the company’s policies when it comes to COVID-19 safety protocol. The union says the company did not respond to Teamsters Local 117’s petition to lower production standards, which they say directly resulted in an increase of COVID-19 infections; they also said the company “suspended safety meetings during the worst parts of the pandemic,” in the words of union member and shop steward Matt Collins. The company’s choice to reject the union’s safety proposal, which would have allowed employees to refuse a task they think could risk their health or the health of customers, was a last straw, instigating the decision to vote on a potential strike. “With all the COVID outbreaks that wreaked havoc on the warehouse, you’d think they’d be a little more concerned about our safety and the safety of the public,” Collins said in a statement. “But, sadly, that’s not the case.”
Fred Meyer is owned by the supermarket operator Kroger, which also owns companies like QFC and Pay Less. A representative from Kroger says employees have yet to strike, and the company does not expect workers to do so in the future. “We will continue to pursue a fair and balanced contract that honors associates and keeps the company competitive,” a Kroger spokesperson said in an official statement. “Note that a strike authorization vote does not mean that there will be a strike. We do not anticipate any disruption in service and it is business as usual in our stores.” However, a current Fred Meyer store employee, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of professional retribution, says orders have been delayed in the last few days, sometimes up to eight hours behind the originally scheduled arrival time.
Fred Meyer locations around the state have been the sites of multiple COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the last year and a half, in both distribution centers and multiple stores: Fred Meyer’s distribution center was the site of a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak in the fall, in which more than 100 people became infected with the novel coronavirus. Workers in Fred Meyer stores have also felt frustrated with the company’s COVID-19 policies, from mask enforcement to the lack of dedicated time off to get vaccinated.
Teamsters spokesperson Paul Zilly confirmed that the union has not yet called for a work stoppage, and that the union will return to contract negotiations in early August. “It’s our hope that we can resolve this in negotiation at the bargaining table and that the company will put forth a contract proposal our members can ratify that recognizes the exceptional work they do,” he says.
This story is ongoing and will be updated with more information.