On the same day unionized workers at Fred Meyer and QFC stores across the Portland area went on strike, their union reached a tentative agreement with the companies, which are both owned by Kroger.
“We are pleased that Fred Meyer and QFC have recognized the ongoing hazard to its workers, with a settlement agreement that provides significant wage increases, added workplace protections, a secure retirement, and quality health care,” the union wrote in a statement.
The strike began at 6 am Dec. 17, and the announcement of a deal arrived shortly before midnight.
The Portland Democratic Socialists of America, members of other unions, and supporters of the labor movement gathered in front of the Fred Meyer location on Northeast Weidler Street at 4 pm Friday to support striking members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 555. About 120 picketers formed a line in front of the store and marched at two parking-lot entrances, chanting and holding signs.
The picketers slowed traffic and, in some instances, obstructed drivers trying to enter the store parking lot.
“Go to another store!” They yelled as motorists attempted to turn into the lot. “There’s a Safeway down the road!”
Picketers were greeted with both supportive honks and disparaging comments from passing motorists. The store manager and security personnel came out to tell picketers to leave, but to no avail.
Fred Meyer began advertising temporary jobs at its stores and on Kroger’s website earlier this week, asking for workers willing to cross the picket line. No experience necessary. (Union representative Miles Eshaia told WW on Thursday that the union’s attorney had sent Fred Meyer a cease-and-desist letter earlier in the week, alleging the company was breaking Oregon law by not initially making clear it was seeking to hire strikebreakers.)
The union struck over what it deemed unfair labor practices, including insufficient pay for certain departments, including grocery and checkout.
The strike came at a particularly inopportune time for the grocery retailers, just over a week shy of Christmas. Eshaia attributes the swiftness of the deal to the strike rendering stores wastelands.
“The community was just straight-up behind us, the pressure the customers helped put on the employer from the very beginning en masse, just not crossing our picket line,” Eshaia says. “Of course, you had people who would plow through and honk and yell, and that happens, but the majority of the people really respected our lines.”
He thinks the grocers realized the magnitude of the strike quickly: “It might be one of those things where they were waiting to see how it goes, and then they were like, ‘Oh, no.’”
Fred Meyer president Dennis Gibson said in a statement: “We are so grateful to our Fred Meyer and QFC associates for everything they do for our customers and our community. That’s why we’ve invested in their wages, health care, and retirement.”
The date of the union vote has not yet been released, nor have details of the tentative agreement. When asked if the company granted most of the union’s demands, Eshaia said he wouldn’t divulge details of the agreement before members saw it. WW asked if union leaders were happy with the deal.
“That’s a loaded question, because leadership can only be happy if members are happy,” Eshaia says. “But the committee does consist of members, and everyone recommended the settlement.”