Dolores Demmon had mixed feelings as she pulled into the parking lot of the Fred Meyer on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland.
It’s a place she regularly goes to pick up medications. But she also knew the grocery workers’ union had called for a boycott of Fred Meyer stores, including this one. She was conflicted.
“It will be extremely inconvenient for us shoppers who go to Fred Meyer and need to pick up prescriptions,” Demmon said. “However, I don’t know what their salaries are now. And if they feel that they need more money to make it through their lives, how can I say ‘no’ to that?”
Demmon went inside for pet food, then on to the hospital to visit her husband. Like other shoppers in Oregon and Southwest Washington this week, she made a personal calculation and, for now, opted to keep her business at Fred Meyer.
As boycotts go, this is a quiet one. No leafleting. No union picket lines. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 called for the Fred Meyer boycott in the midst of tense contract negotiations and allegations of unfair labor practices. In particular, the union says Fred Meyer managers subjected employees to individual meetings and pressured them to leave the union.
That’s a charge the company flatly denies, saying it would go against its corporate values. The National Labor Relations Board will likely investigate.
In a statement Sunday calling for the boycott, Jeff Anderson, the secretary-treasurer of Local 555 said, “If Fred Meyer won’t listen to workers’ voices, perhaps they will listen to the sound of departments devoid of shoppers.”
That hasn’t happened – at least so far.
Penn Chourre, 23, approached the Fred Meyer on Hawthorne, shopping bag in hand.
“Oh yeah! Always gotta bring your own bag,” he said.
Chourre hadn’t heard anything about contract negotiations. Hadn’t heard that UFCW Local 555 members voted this summer to authorize a strike if talks ultimately fail with Fred Meyer, QFC, Albertsons and Safeway. Hadn’t heard that the union, which represents 20,000 grocery workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington had called on people like him to boycott Fred Meyer. But he was willing to learn more.
“If it’s for a good cause and for the right reasons, I can definitely go shopping other places and make do without this,” he said. But he added he’d probably need to hear an employee’s personal story to shake him out of his habits.
Pay is a primary issue in these negotiations. The union says workers don’t make enough to thrive. Fred Meyer says it’s offering bigger wage increases, in absolute terms, than were approved by the union in the last two contracts.
News of the boycott has spread quickly through the press and social media. The Democratic Party of Oregon came out in support of the workers. And 86 year-old Ilse Roberts walked into Fred Meyer with a heavy heart. She spoke immediately about the gender-based pay gap the union said it discovered at Portland area Fred Meyer stores.
“I agree they should have the same kind of payment, male or female. But I need to shop here because I live down the street and I’m walking,” she said.
Unlike Chourre, she knew all about the boycott.
“I know, I know. I would like to follow it, but I’m forced to come here. Because I have no car.”
On the website it uses for bargaining updates, Fred Meyer posted a statement. It said, in part, that a boycott could hurt both customers and community members, while driving business to non-union competitors.
The next round of negotiations kicks off Thursday, September 26.