FOLLOWUP: Grocery workers’ union says it’s won button battle

(WSB photo, September 2020)

One year ago, we took that photo at Westwood Village, where QFC workers were demonstrating in support of hazard pay and for the right to wear union-sponsored buttons declaring that Black lives matter. Their union, UFCW 21, took the button issue to the National Labor Relations Board, and says the NLRB has ruled in its favor. From the union:

After Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on May 25, 2020, many UFCW 21 members working in grocery and retail stores chose to express their opposition to racism by wearing face masks (otherwise worn for protection from COVID) or other items bearing the Black Lives Matter slogan.

Although Kroger issued public statements expressing sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement, managers at Kroger-owned stores in Western Washington started ordering UFCW 21 members to remove Black Lives Matter masks in August 2020.

UFCW 21 responded to the company’s Black Lives Matter ban by collaborating with Fred Meyer and QFC workers to distribute union-sponsored Black Lives Matter buttons with the UFCW 21 logo. When managers banned the Union buttons, UFCW 21 filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board. Kroger’s ban and the Union response received widespread local and national attention.

(Now) Region 19 of the National Labor Relations Board has informed UFCW 21 of its finding that Fred Meyer and QFC – both Kroger companies – violated federal labor law when it prohibited workers from wearing union-sponsored Black Lives Matter buttons.

Specifically, Region 19 found merit in UFCW 21’s charges that Kroger violated the law by: 1) failing to bargain with the Union over a change in workplace conditions – in this case the practice of allowing the wearing of buttons at work; and 2) prohibiting workers from taking action together – in this case, by wearing Black Lives Matter messages – to protest racism in the workplace and in society, generally.

Region 19 will now seek a settlement agreement with Kroger, which would likely require a change to company policy. If a settlement cannot be reached, Region 19 would typically issue a formal complaint and a trial would be held before an Administrative Law Judge, whose ruling would be subject to an appeal to the NLRB in Washington D.C.

“This is very uplifting. When workers were trying to speak out through these buttons and collectively say Black Lives Matter and Kroger said to take the buttons off, that was an insult. This decision is welcome news in our work to bring attention to social and racial injustice in the workplace and in our neighborhoods”, said Sam Dancy, a Front End Supervisor at the Westwood Village QFC in West Seattle.

The union is also calling for “meaningful steps to address racial inequities in Kroger workplaces.”

9 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Grocery workers' union says it's won button battle"

  • kerstimuul September 17, 2021 (5:54 pm)

    Wonderful, but so sad it had to come to this.

  • Auntie September 17, 2021 (6:00 pm)

    Union YES!

  • WSCurmudgeon September 17, 2021 (6:35 pm)

    Round 1 to the union!  Stay tuned.

  • MLK September 17, 2021 (11:02 pm)

    There’s a reason the framers made this the 1st amendment Sorry #2 guys…

    • Pessoa September 18, 2021 (7:37 pm)

      I appreciate the nod to the 1st Amendment, but the notion that free speech exists in America is pure fiction. 

  • John Smith September 18, 2021 (9:42 am)

    I am a 45 year member of a (different) union, and I am a little embarrassed by this button fight when I think about the union members who died during strikes a hundred years ago. It’s their union, though, so they have a right to choose their battles.

    • Brian September 18, 2021 (2:34 pm)

      Your comment presumes that UFCW is singularly focused on the rights of their members to wear buttons when that is demonstrably untrue.

  • anonyme September 18, 2021 (9:55 am)

    I have mixed feelings about this.  Many companies have a dress code, and like Kroger, require that employees wear uniforms. This is because most businesses prefer to stay publicly neutral on political issues so as not to offend or repel customers. Far as I know, dress codes and uniforms have never been a first amendment issue.  If you allow employees to wear items of clothing that express political and social views, then what’s to stop employees from wearing MAGA hats to work?  How about a “Meat is Murder” button?  I’m pro-union, but in this case, they’ve opened Pandora’s box.

  • Pessoa September 19, 2021 (9:15 am)

    Though this “button battle” a more of a technical dispute on the employee-employer relationship, the broader issue is a society that restricts the vigorous exchange of ideas and leaves it susceptible to fear, suspicion, and citizens unable to cope with other opinions. A society that allows all speech, does not worry about the oft used excuse to restrict speech, the proverbial “crying fire in a movie theater.”

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