The “friendliest store in town” may soon become the most recently unionized store in greater Portland. On Friday, May 27, employees of the Orenco Station and Seven Corners New Seasons, the Portland-born grocery chain known for its local chef collaborations, filed for official union elections with the National Labor Relations Board, attempting to become federally recognized unions. New Seasons’s ownership has yet to respond to request for comment.
The Portland Mercury first reported on the Seven Corners’s location intent to unionize, filing as an independent union on Friday. New Seasons workers at the Division Street location are specifically seeking wage increases that accommodate the rate of inflation and rising costs of living in Portland, as well as more negotiating power when it comes to policy change. On the independent union’s Instagram page, the union has criticized the company’s restrictive policies, saying employees are “forced to work in departments” other than the ones they’re trained to cover “because store management refuses to let people leave even 10 minutes early.”
United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555 separately announced Hillsboro’s union Monday, May 31, which the union says is in response to “changes to the company’s culture and business ethics,” especially following South Korean retail conglomerate Emart’s acquisition of the brand. In 2019, Emart bought the Oregon-founded New Seasons, but left CEO Forrest Hoffmaster in charge of the company; he departed in April 2021.
By unionizing, the employees of the Hillsboro location are seeking higher wages and more robust retirement benefits, but also more say and consistency as it relates to safety protocols and store policy. According to workers, safety and staffing policies have recently shifted, which has left them feeling concerned about the wellbeing of both the employees and the grocery store’s customers.
“As employees, we are expected to make New Seasons Market the ‘friendliest store in town,’” says New Seasons Hillsboro employee Shelby Miller. “This is hard to maintain with overworked and underappreciated staff. A recently enacted attendance policy has workers more scared than ever to call out, which is problematic given we are still in a global pandemic.”
The separate announcements and filings were deliberate: Employees of the independent New Seasons Labor Union decided to represent themselves without an established union partner. “We decided that the best way for us to be heard was for us to represent ourselves,” a New Seasons Labor Union organizer told the Mercury.
Back in 2017, employees of New Seasons attempted to unionize, even then responding to concerns about outside investment and changes in policy. In response, the company hired “union avoidance consultants” to address the burgeoning union, paying the firm Cruz & Associates more than $325,000 to help curb the organizing at local stores.
For years, New Seasons has touted its workplace benefits and wages: The company’s starting salary is $16.25 per hour, above the Oregon and Portland metro minimum wage; the company’s website also says it offers employees medical, dental, vision, 401(k) matching, paid parental leave, paid volunteer time, and paid vacation. New Seasons is also a Certified B Corporation.
This story will be updated with more information.