PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Workers at Fred Meyer stores throughout Oregon and the Portland metro area have walked off the job. They started a weeklong strike at 6 a.m. on Dec. 17. The move comes amid ongoing contract negotiations with Fred Meyer and Quality Food Centers (QFC) parent company Kroger.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555 chapter represents local workers at the two grocery store chains. The union released a statement overnight announcing the decision to strike and cited unfair labor practices.
“Fred Meyer and QFC’s continual disregard for the rules protecting their employees have left members of UFCW Local 555 with no choice but to take action,” said Miles Eshaia, the communications coordinator for UFCW Local 555. “All over the country, essential workers are standing up and demanding to be treated fairly. And after facing the pandemic head on, communities are standing with those who stood and risked infection to feed the communities in which they live.”
The union said the strike will end at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 24.
Workers were out picketing at the Fred Meyer on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard early Friday morning.
Fred Meyer said stores will remain open despite the strike. In a statement, Fred Meyer and QFC called the union’s decision to strike “reckless” and urged it “to consider the full implications for its members heading into the holiday season.”
“At a time when we want to invest more than ever in wage increases and affordable health care, the UFCW has chosen disruption and the unknown for our associates and their families,” said Dennis Gibson, the president of Fred Meyer. “We value our associates and thank them for what they do every day for each other and our customers. We are committed to serving our customers, and our stores are open and stocked with fresh food and household essentials.”
Fred Meyer and QFC parent company Kroger has been in contract negotiations since July with the UFCW Local 555.
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.
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.
In an interview with KGW on Thursday, Eshaia said 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,” Eshaia 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.”
According to a statement from Fred Meyer, workers earned between $1,100-$1,700 additional compensation during the pandemic. Fred Meyer also said it has proposed a $36 million investment in pay raises, health care coverage and retirement.
On Thursday, the company appeared to be preparing for the possibility of a strike by hiring temporary workers to replace the ones who walk off the job.
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.