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Fred Meyer grocery workers in Richland vote to unionize in historic campaign

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 7, 2021

By Cameron Probert Tri-City Herald

RICHLAND – After a long, hard-fought campaign, Richland Fred Meyer employees won a vote to unionize by a margin of 2-1.

About 250 workers at the store will join the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1439. With the National Labor Relations Board tally finished, it paves the way for the employees to start negotiating with managers.

A Fred Meyer store voting to become unionized is a first for the state in recent memory, union officials said.

“This is an unprecedented victory, inspired by the sacrifices of essential grocery workers during the pandemic,” said Jeff Hofstader, the UFCW Local 1439 secretary-treasurer. “We hope this inspires other grocery workers to stand up and exercise their rights.”

Figures on what employees will make were not immediately available because a contract has not been ratified. The union includes about 7,000 workers grocery stores, meatpacking houses, offices and pharmacies across Eastern Washington, northern Idaho and northeastern Oregon.

It’s a conclusion to a nearly two-year fight for the union that started in October 2019. The effort survived multiple attempts by managers to pressure workers out of voting for the union, said workers Roxanne Reynolds and Jeremy Brewer.

“It was a pretty stressful experience. It’s difficult to take a stand for not only your rights, but the rights of others,” said Brewer, a dairy clerk who has been at the store for five years.

When he heard the results, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of his shoulders, he said.

Reynolds, a cashier with four years employment at the store, said she is looking forward to seeing some positive changes for her and other employees.

“We’re super excited,” she said. “It was a long, hard-fought battle.”

She said it was a battle that saw managers bring all of the employees into meetings and try to convince them not to join the union. And she reported the company brought in managers from out of the area to try and halt their efforts.

In a statement, a Fred Meyer spokesperson told the Herald that they respect their associates’ right to choose and will work with the union to do what is right for employees.

Workers want respect

Reynolds and Brewer said they were looking for respect from management.

In one case, Reynolds said a customer threw a box of shoes at her and hit her in the head. When she called security to report it, management went back and reviewed the tape.

“They said, ‘Yeah. We saw it. It was pretty funny,’ ” Reynolds said. They didn’t call police or take any further steps.

The employees are often put on the front lines of corporate decisions that they have no control over, but still have to enforce This has proven difficult with shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, she said most of the employees are on some form of public assistance, because they can’t afford to support themselves or their families based on the amount of hours they are working.

Fred Meyer’s parent company, Kroger, earned more than $31 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2021 and $467 million in net income, according to Google Finance.

Reynolds pointed out that employees shouldn’t have to leave to find better work. They are hoping to see improvements in pay and benefits once a contract is in place.

“The sad part is that I don’t hate my job,” she said. “We only want better working conditions. Not only for us but for everyone that comes after us.”

While managers tried pressuring employees out of voting for the union, Reynolds and Brewer said the reaction from the public has been positive. Many of the people believed the employees were already part of the union.

“The overwhelming response was very, very favorable,” Reynolds said. “We have a lot of great customers at that store. It was really heartwarming to know that we were not alone.”

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