UPDATE 11/19/18 12:30 PM: Despite hopes of an agreement from representatives on both sides Friday, Monday, activists and community groups who have been engaged with New Seasons said they are “disappointed” that officials “gave no indication the company is committed to change.”
“We can’t wait around while New Seasons’ corporate leadership thinks a little more about respecting our community’s values, and we’re not going to stop calling on them to respect workers’ rights,” the group writes in a statement sent by the Good Jobs Coalition.
“We’re not going away,” the group writes, “and we call on other community members to join us…”
The full statement has been added at the end of this post.
Original report: Unlike what happened at its May opening in Ballard, you probably won’t see protesters greet New Seasons when it opens at 23rd and Union in 2019.
A company spokesperson said it plans to meet Friday’s deadline for a response after positive talks with community groups aligned to push back on the Portland-based grocery chain’s labor practices and its ownership’s anti-LGBTQ politics as it readies to open in the Central District.
Friday’s deadline is part of a community coalition’s demands for the chain:
During their meeting, organizers gave New Seasons co-president Kristi McFarland and other local reps a list of demands. If the demands are met, they said, their campaign against the company would stop. Among other things, they asked New Seasons to sign a neutrality agreement to let interested workers unionize, disclose workforce demographics, let low-income customers use Fresh Bucks to buy produce, stock affordable staple foods, and donate some of their local profits to affordable housing projects and community land trusts.
Nicole Keenan, executive director of Puget Sound Sage, an advocacy group dedicated to low-income people, communities of color, immigrants and refugees, has been part of talks with New Seasons and also categorized the negotiations as positive in a conversation with CHS Friday afternoon. Keenan joined reps from groups like the Squire Park Community Council in the discussions with New Seasons.
While we don’t yet know the specifics of the New Seasons response, the community campaign against the store which has included a “newseasonstories.com” website and neighborhood yard signs, appears to be approaching a fruitful conclusion.
UPDATE 3:40 PM: A New Seasons representative sent over the company’s response to the community groups. We’ve added the full letter at the end of this post. A company representative also provided the following statement:
At New Seasons, we are proud of our established track record as an active civic partner that is committed to directly engaging in building community in a way that reflects our shared progressive values. We’ve been working with a Central District Advisory Council made up of business leaders, local nonprofit representatives and neighborhood council members to understand the needs of the neighborhood, but when we were contacted by this group we wanted to hear their perspective as well. At the meeting, we shared our commitment to championing higher wages, comprehensive benefits for all kinds of families, an inclusive culture, as well as using our voice to stand up for affordable housing, hunger relief and other important social justice and workplace issues that affect everyone. We also took away some valuable ideas from our conversation that we will be exploring further.
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Labor has been at the center of the New Seasons opposition. In late 2017, a coalition of unions targeted the store’s expansion plans.
“As more upsetting news surfaces about New Seasons, we ask that you work with members of the Good Jobs Coalition who live in the Central District to address our concerns about New Seasons,” a statement from the coalition read. “We don’t believe New Seasons is a good fit for our community, and we want to work with you to find a solution that meets the needs of long-time Central District residents.”
“The goal is to make a grocery store that is affordable and also creating jobs for the people in the community that is being displaced,” one labor representative said. “It cannot be New Seasons. It is not their intent. It is not their direction.”
The pushback to New Seasons hasn’t been limited to labor groups. Residents and speakers at a meeting about neighborhood development hosted by Africatown last year said they were concerned about the grocer coming to the Central District.
Others have accused the company of “pinkwashing” —
But New Seasons’ corporate executives cross the line when they use the CHS Blog to excuse the anti-LGBTQIA practices of the corporation’s part-owner, Murdock Trust, including sending money to the group behind the recent Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
According to its own tax forms and records, Murdock has provided millions to anti-choice, anti-worker and anti-LBTQIA groups including $212,000 to a LGBTQIA conversion therapy provider, the Portland Fellowship. This Oregon organization offers “biblical instruction, accountability groups and counseling” to “liberate” LGBTQIA people from their same-sex attraction. In 2015, the Portland Fellowship opposed the Oregon legislation banning the use of “conversion therapy” on LGBTQIA minors, a heinous practice recently banned in Washington State.
Murdock has also given $1.24 million to the notorious Focus on the Family, $1.9 million to fake women’s health clinics, millions to private educational institutions that openly discriminate against LGBTQIA student groups, and almost a million dollars to the Alliance Defending Freedom.
The company has pushed back, saying it shares Seattle’s “progressive values.” “Our staff has the right to choose whether or not they want to be represented by a union and if the staff chooses to unionize, we will support their decision,” the company wrote in an op-ed published on CHS.
Lake Union Partners, the firm developing the mixed-use building that will house the market on the northwest corner of 23rd and Union, has voiced support for its choice of anchor tenant for the project. “We have a signed lease with New Seasons and we are excited about the positive attributes they will bring to the neighborhood, including more than 100 local, competitive-wage jobs,” partner Patrick Foley told CHS last year. “We interviewed a number of union stores for this location including Metropolitan Market, and PCC as well as a non-union store in Ken’s Market of Phinney Ridge neighborhood, all of which declined for their own business reasons.”
While no opening date has been set, business owners in the area said they have been told the new store should be open this winter.
UPDATE 3:40 PM: Here is the full letter from New Seasons in response to the coalition groups:
Nicole and community members,
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me and the New Seasons Market team last month. We appreciated the opportunity and wanted to send a follow up note – please ensure those who were in attendance at our meeting but not on the original email receive our response.
We are excited to serve the diverse community in the Central District and overall Seattle market, and are committed to being responsive to the many voices that make up each unique neighborhood. In addition to meeting with you, we’ve engaged with a wide range of community leaders, advocates and residents over the last two years, and have been welcomed as a progressive employer and positive contributor to the neighborhoods where we operate.
We have a lot in common, with years of work championing higher wages, comprehensive benefits, an inclusive culture, and staff-friendly employment practices. Our staff have a strong voice in shaping our policies and programs including paid parental leave, secure lifestyle scheduling, paid volunteer opportunities, career development and much more. As a civically active company, we use our voice to stand up for affordable housing, hunger relief and other important social justice and workplace issues that affect everyone. We’ve been recognized as being one of the best grocery employers in the country, one of the very few who are certified as a B Corporation, and we are always looking for how we can improve.
We took away some ideas from our conversation that we will be exploring further, including broadening our public advocacy for affordable housing and tenant protections in Seattle and other markets where we operate, supporting Got Green’s restorative justice practices as part of our operating policies, and expanding our SNAP matching donations in Oregon farmer’s markets to include our Seattle neighborhood stores. We had already begun conversations with Fresh Bucks and look forward to learning more about the retailer program. It’s been our consistent practice to donate 10% of our after tax profits to the community, which we’ll continue to do as we open our Central District store.
We are looking forward to meeting more of our new neighbors and collaborating with them toward our shared goals of making the store a vibrant hub and force for good in the community.
Wishing you and your families a very healthy and happy holiday season,
UPDATE 11/19/18 12:30 PM: Here is the complete response from the coalition to the letter from New Seasons.
Community Groups Disappointed New Seasons Won’t Commit to Respecting Workers’ Rights
The coalition of community groups that met with New Seasons Market corporate executives issues this public response to the company regarding its expansion plans in the Central District:
“On Friday, New Seasons Market HQ sent a response to our community coalition’s proposals. We had asked them to commit to real changes in the areas of workers’ rights, gentrification and displacement, and their financial ties with the Murdock Trust.
Unfortunately, while they said they plan to “explore” some of our ideas around affordability and inclusion, they gave no indication the company is committed to change. In fact, they had nothing new to say in response to our proposals around respecting workers’ rights, and no response to our call to cut ties with the Murdock Trust, a major donor to hate groups that fight our community’s values.
Let’s be clear: hearing from a corporation that they’re willing to consider adopting restorative justice practices, advocating for affordable housing and tenant protections, and accepting Fresh Bucks in their stores is a huge win. When we come together to hold companies accountable, we can have an impact. But all we have from New Seasons at this point are words. The company has yet to make concrete commitments in any of these areas.
We can’t wait around while New Seasons’ corporate leadership thinks a little more about respecting our community’s values, and we’re not going to stop calling on them to respect workers’ rights. Respect for workers is central to respect for our community. We offered concrete solutions such as bringing in the organizations the City of Seattle funds to do workers’ rights trainings, and remaining neutral when employees want to organize for better working conditions.
Instead, we got boilerplate language from their PR materials about how friendly they are. That’s not good enough. We’re not going away, and we call on other community members to join us—after all, we live here.”
About this group: These community groups are all members of the Good Jobs Coalition, a coalition of economic and racial justice groups and community members working together to hold companies accountable to community values of respect for workers’ rights, diversity, and inclusion. This group of Central District community groups and leaders came together in advance of New Seasons Market’s expansion into Seattle’s Central District, and asked the leadership of the chain for a meeting to discuss community concerns. Learn more: RejectNewSeasons.org