Fred Meyer, QFC workers told not to wear Black Lives Matter buttons
Union files grievance
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Fred Meyer and QFC, both under the Kroger umbrella of grocery retail stores, have banned employees from wearing Black Lives Matter (BLM) buttons while at work.
According to Tom Geiger, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 21, the ban is against the law, and workers are contractually allowed to wear the BLM buttons freely.
Union workers and store employees have stated the ban on BLM buttons is in violation of federal labor laws, as well as the terms of their collective bargaining agreement with QFC and Fred Meyer.
On Sept. 21, the union sent a letter to Fred Meyer and QFC informing them grievances were filed. An unfair labor practice charge was also filed against Kroger, under the federal labor law.
Representatives for Fred Meyer and QFC did not respond to requests for comment from the Tribune.
UFCW 21 made the buttons in August for the 13,000 workers they represent, to wear at grocery stores throughout the area.
According to Geiger, Fred Meyer and QFC are the only grocery chains in the area that have enforced a ban of this nature.
Everett Fred Meyer employee Chelsea Pendergrass was told to remove her BLM pin from her uniform by store managers.
“When they asked me to remove my button, it made me feel that the company cares more about maintaining good customer relations,” Pendergrass said. “They’re afraid of offending somebody, more than they care about their associate’s lives.”
In her five years of working at the Everett location, Pendergrass has expressed her personal beliefs in the past by wearing buttons and buttons without being told to remove them.
“I know that different (Fred Meyer) locations kind of started asking people (to take off buttons), that’s how I knew they were gonna eventually ask us because they had already done it at other stores,” Pendergrass said.
According to a UFCW 21 news release, employees expressed their concern with managers and attempted to solve the problem in-house before the union filed grievances.
According to Geiger, there have been inconsistencies within QFC and Fred Meyer stores regarding the ban.
“One worker may be told to take off a button if they are seen wearing it and another worker wearing the same button is not asked to take it off,” Geiger said. “So that’s another point, that it does seem to be a little inconsistent how they’re applying this so-called gesture.”
The inconsistency between store to store and even employee to employee does not stop at the local level. Despite banning BLM buttons, new Kroger uniforms caused a similar yet somewhat contradictory issue at a store in Arkansas.
Kroger made national news for allegedly firing employees for refusing to wear uniforms with an embroidered rainbow heart symbol. As reported by NBC News in September, Kroger is being sued for allegedly firing only the employees who wouldn’t wear it because they said it clashed with their religious beliefs, but did not fire other employees who also covered up the embroidery.
The ex-employees asserted the symbol is “endorsing the LGBTQ community,” which they see as morally wrong, and the company didn’t give them a religious accommodation.
An online petition about the BLM buttons calls out Kroger CEO, Rodney McMullen to “stop silencing employees who are using their voice to express their opposition to racism and injustice toward the Black community.”
The petition states, “We, the undersigned, call on Fred Meyer, QFC, and all Kroger-owned stores to respect workers’ right to wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ at work.
“We further call on Kroger executives to meet with Black workers and community leaders to address the ongoing racism faced by Black workers and customers at the company’s stores.”
The petition can be found at www.tinyurl.com/BLMatKroger
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