Grocery workers from around the Seattle area gathered together with onlookers and supporters in front of the newly built New Seasons Market in Ballard on May 9 to protest the abusive and underhanded business practices that have come to characterize the expanding grocery chain. The day of action was organized by United Food & Commercial Workers’ Union Local 21 (UFCW21) in partnership with other local advocates as part of their “Reject New Seasons” campaign. This initiative aims to raise awareness of the several ways in which New Seasons is detrimental to the communities that it does it business in. The campaign began with a letter to New Seasons signed by labor unions, LGBTQ advocacy groups, various advocacy groups as well as multiple City Council members.
Citing broken promises made to employees, including promises of future raises that never materialized, several longtime New Seasons employees denounced the company for failing to uphold the values which they claim to embody. These include the solemn admonition “Do the right thing. Always.” These workers, who came together with their fellow grocery workers from around the Puget Sound, spent the afternoon sharing their experiences working in some of the chain’s other locations.
“Generally, people stay at their hire rate”
Marty, an employee of 7 years, testified to the various means used by the company to deny or forestall giving raises. A ruthless attendance policy, unattainable performance goals and insufficient staff to meet the stores’ needs provide employers with a variety of pretenses for withholding the already modest wage increase they had been promised. Although employees are promised an annual raise of 3-6 percent, even this modest increase is subject to an annual performance review which is itself based entirely on “merit”- and hence entirely arbitrary.
“Generally,” Marty told Liberation News, “people stay at their hire rate.” Through all this, workers continually stressed the fact that it was the conditions, and not the job itself, that they wanted to reform. Chris, an employee of more than 8 years, summarized his feeling by saying “I still love my coworkers and my job, but I want to make it better.”
More than one employee attributed the steady deterioration in the quality of working conditions at New Seasons to the acquisition of majority control of the company in 2009 by Endeavor Capital, “a private equity and venture capital firm specializing in expansion stage opportunities, buyouts, and acquiring expansion stage companies from individuals, corporate, or other private equity investors.” According to Chris, this change signaled a major culture shift at New Seasons. The new focus on increased profit at the expense of the employees resulted in a massive rise in employer expectations and a steady decline in job satisfaction, job security- and staff.
Endeavor Capital and the Murdock Trust
The role of Endeavor Capital in the campaign has been of special importance to organizers mobilizing against the grocery chain. One of the biggest investors in Endeavor Capital is none other than the Murdock Charitable Trust, which owns millions of dollars in assets tied directly to the ownership of New Seasons Market.
The Murdock Charitable Trust has also given millions in “charitable donations” to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that spends these funds to train lawyers to defend the business owners who discriminate against LGBTQ people on grounds of religious freedom, pushes abroad for recriminalization of homosexual sex, and lobbies within the US for any local and federal legislation to “push back against the gay agenda.” The Murdock Fund is supporting a hate group; the charity of the capitalists at work.
The assault on union activity: an attack on one is an attack on all
The Fund also invests heavily in the Freedom Foundation, an organization that devotes itself to anti-union practices. These connections between the Murdock Trust and anti-union organizations serve the owners of New Seasons well in their own anti worker practices.
New Seasons portrays itself as supporting the rights of farmers and planters in their struggle for better wages and conditions, but when their own employees began to discuss unionizing, the grocer contracted the notorious union avoidance consultant Cruz & Associates. It is the same firm that the Trump hotel chain paid $500,000 to fight against unionization efforts in their Las Vegas hotels. This firm has also been consulted in anti-union efforts regarding American Apparel, Conway Freight and the LA Hilton.
New Seasons is currently a small presence in Seattle-as of this moment, only two stores exist in the Seattle area-but organizers within the campaign against New Seasons know there is likely a more devious plan at work, one that intends to gut union power in the region.
Endeavor Capital owns or has large stake various grocers in the Seattle region, one of these being Metropolitan Market. The major difference between Metropolitan Market and New Seasons is that the former is unionized, and the latter of course, is not. It is likely that if Endeavor Capital finds New Seasons to be profitable for the Seattle area, the Metropolitan Markets could simply be closed, given a quick renovation, and turned into New Seasons market. If you can’t keep your workers from unionizing your store, close your store and make a new one! For many exploiters, particularly ones as large as Endeavor Capital, upholding the power relation of the boss to the isolated and non-unionized workers is far more important than the immediate profits.
The fight against New Seasons will continue, as they plan to expand into the Central district of Seattle, as they continue operations in their Seattle locations, the rally on Wednesday outside the grocer end with a clear, enthusiastic, “we’ll be back!” from organizers, intent on showing the true face of the ‘friendliest store in town”.
Sign a petition in support of the campaign against New Seasons!