PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Workers at Fred Meyer stores throughout Oregon and the Portland metro area could begin a weeklong strike as early as 6 a.m. Friday, and the company appears to be preparing for that possibility by hiring temporary workers to replace the ones who go out on strike.
Signs posted near the entrances of multiple Portland-area Fred Meyer locations this week advertised temporary associate positions with a notice that applicants must be “willing to cross a picket line.” Similar language has appeared in recent online advertising from the company.
Fred Meyer and Quality Food Centers (QFC) parent company Kroger has been in contract negotiations since July with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555 chapter, which represents Oregon and Southwest Washington workers at the two grocery store chains.
The union has made multiple unfair labor practice complaints against the company, the most significant of which alleges that the company has hampered the bargaining process by refusing to provide information about wage disparities, according to UFCW Local 555 Communications Coordinator Miles Eshaia.
The union’s membership voted on Dec. 11 to authorize a potential strike. Union leaders notified the company of the strike plan a few days later, ahead of a trio of planned bargaining sessions this week, the last of which was scheduled for Thursday.
“Unless the unfair labor practices are dealt with and we have reached a deal by tomorrow morning at 6 a.m., we’ll be going out on strike,” Eshaia told KGW on Thursday.
In a press release on Wednesday, the union accused Fred Meyer and QFC of violating Oregon labor law by failing to notify potential applicants about the possible strike and the fact that they would be hired as replacement workers.
An additional sign taped to one of the temporary associate position advertisements at the Stadium Fred Meyer store in Portland on Thursday did include details about the planned strike and stated that in accordance with Oregon labor law, potential applicants “are hereby notified that any offer of employment may be temporary based on the duration of the strike.”
When asked for comment on Thursday, Fred Meyer sent KGW a statement that said, “We do not know what the union will decide to do. We take our responsibility to maintain access to food and essential items for the communities that we serve very seriously. Our goal is to achieve a fair and balanced outcome for our associates, and we will continue to negotiate for as long as it takes to do so. We will do everything we can within the scope of the law to ensure that we are able to continue to provide access to food and essential items.”
The strike is being called due to the unfair labor practice charges, Eshaia said, but the union is also broadly pushing for workers to receive better pay, particularly given the difficulties involved in retail work during the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two years. Grocery workers were touted as essential, he said, but they weren’t treated as such.
“They were given ‘hero pay’ for a while, and then … when it became apparent that the pandemic was going to be going on much longer, that hero pay kind of evaporated,” he said. “And these companies are making record profits throughout this entire pandemic. And quite honestly, our workers are essential and they deserve more, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”
KGW’s Maggie Vespa contributed to this story.