Puget Sound-area retail and grocery store workers, with the full backing of their union (UFCW 21), launched a campaign Tuesday calling on Kroger-owned Fred Meyer and QFC to reverse the companies’ ban on employees wearing Black Lives Matter buttons at work.
Over recent weeks, management has begun ordering workers to remove “Black Lives Matter” buttons distributed by the UFCW 21, according to a Tuesday, Sept. 22 press release from UFCW 21.
UFCW 21, the union which represents more than 13,000 workers at Puget Sound-area Fred Meyer and QFC stores, says the ban violates workers’ rights under the companies’ union contracts and federal labor law.
On Tuesday morning, after weeks of attempts to resolve the problem internally, UFCW 21 filed formal grievances with the companies, as well as an unfair labor practice charge under federal labor law.
A QFC spokesperson in Bellevue said in an email Tuesday to the Kent Reporter that employees have other options to show their support for the Black community.
“We strive to offer a workplace that is uplifting, inclusive and consistent with our values: integrity, honesty, diversity, inclusion, safety and respect,” according to the email. “Many associates have expressed a desire to stand together with the Black community and show their support through their clothing, facial coverings and accessories. To offer a more consistent solution, we’ve made two wristband options available to our associates: one that represents our commitment to standing together with our Black associates, customers and communities against racism in all forms, and the other to serve as a reminder of our values that guide us.”
UFCW 21 and community leaders are also calling on supporters to sign an online petition to the companies (see: tinyurl.com/BLMatKroger).
Shawntia Cunningham, who is Black and works at the Everett Fred Meyer, explained why she is fighting for her right to wear the button.
“I get pulled over by cops for having a nice car to the point that my husband, who is white, has to drive so I can just feel safe,” Cunningham said in the press release. “I have been called the ‘N’ word by customers at my store a few times. I need this company to respect us as human beings and to respect our rights as workers. I need Fred Meyer and QFC and all Kroger to see that Black lives really do matter.”
UFCW 21 President Faye Guenther said the union strongly supports its members about the issue.
“Systemic racism is real and it negatively impacts thousands of our members on the job and in the community,” Guenther said. “We are proud of our members who are standing up to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and we will support their right to do so with every tool available to us.”
The campaign is drawing support from area labor and civil rights leaders. Gabriel Prawl, Sr., A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) Seattle Chapter president, Tuesday called on Fred Meyer and QFC to reconsider the ban on Black Lives Matter and meet with Black workers and community leaders to address “ongoing racist issues in the retail environment.”
April Sims, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO offered full support.
“Solidarity among working people is the foundation of the labor movement, and these workers are living that commitment by wearing Black Lives Matter buttons,” Sims said. “These brave workers are backed by the 550,000-person strong labor movement of Washington state, and we call on these companies to reverse their decision to prioritize the feelings of racists over the humanity of their Black and Brown employees and customers.”
The QFC spokesperson emphasized in the email what the company has done for employees since COVID-19 struck.
“Since March, we have invested more than $1 billion to both reward our associates and to safeguard them and our customers through the implementation of dozens of safety measures,” according to the email. “The company’s total COVID-19 incident rate continues to track meaningfully below the rate in the surrounding communities where we operate. We have learned and continue to learn while keeping our stores and supply chain open and serving Washington during the pandemic.”