Editor’s Note: Both The Good Jobs Coalition and New Seasons Market are Capitol Hill Times advertisers.

As New Seasons Market moves forward with plans to open two stores in Seattle, current and former employees are speaking out about the company’s treatment of its workers and impacts on the communities it serves.

New Seasons has plans to open in Ballard and the Central District, having opened a store in Mercer Island in November 2016.

What started as Central District residents arguing in a public meeting about the grocery store being unaffordable and anti-union has grown to an organized opposition coalition fighting New Seasons expanding into the Seattle market.

The Good Jobs Coalition has been asking people opposed to New Seasons opening in the new East Union development at 23rd and Union to sign a letter addressed to developer Lake Union Partners, and is conducting another campaign for Ballard.

Several Seattle City Councilmembers have signed a letter to New Seasons Market’s new co-presidents Kristi McFarland and Forrest Hoffmaster, asking that the company meet the city’s grocery industry standards, and declining to shop at its store until that happens.

Before meeting with Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda, Lorena González and Mike O’Brien on Tuesday, Feb. 13, current and former New Seasons employees sat down with CHT to talk about their experiences with the company’s culture and plans to unionize in Portland should NSM not meet workers’ demands for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

Terra Bosart had worked for New Seasons in Portland for 12 years before she was fired in November 2017 for what she claims was retaliation for advocating for unionization. Her coworker Adrian Mendoza’s employment was terminated a month earlier. The Local 555 union has filed charges against New Seasons for those firings and another for alleged union-busting practices, all of which are now being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board.

Bosart and Mendoza were two of three employees that had their picture on an FAQ flyer they’d been handing out to coworkers since September that laid out arguments for unionization.

David Adams was also in that picture, but still has his deli job. He said he thinks it’s because he was the only cis white man on the flyer and also is more soft-spoken about his grievances.

Endeavour Capital is the majority owner of New Seasons, and the Murdock Charitable Trust invests in a fund that Endeavour uses to fund the market. Opponents to New Seasons Market coming to the Central District accused Murdock Trust of providing funding to the Republican Party to support privatizing social security and Medicare, and also toward anti-LGBTQ campaigns.

“I can share that the Trust funds projects supporting arts and culture, health and human services, scientific research and educational projects in the Pacific Northwest,” according to an email response from Colby Reade, director of communications at the Murdock Trust, to those accusations. “The Trust has not given funds to any political party nor has the it made grants to fund political campaigns of any kind, let alone those aimed at the topics described.”

Bosart said she started noticing employee conditions and store standards decline after Wendy Collie came on as CEO in 2012 to maximize the company’s profitability, a move she believes was Endeavour’s idea. Collie was forced out earlier this month.

Adams agrees New Seasons is more focused on profitability now than with its workers and communities, noting he’s now training people in the deli who make the same wage as he does. Employees receive a discount card, he said, but he still only shops at New Seasons when he wants to treat himself.

Neighborhoods where New Seasons have opened in Portland have seen increased gentrification, he said, and many of his coworkers can’t afford to live close by; a lot of them live a 1 1/2-hour commute away.

Adams said he does get to take home some food from the deli deemed no longer suitable for customer consumption, using what New Seasons calls Blue Slips. He adds the company writes that food off as a donation, which is quicker than a food bank.

Peter Szczepanek said he used to live six blocks away from his New Seasons store, but the neighborhood was no longer affordable once his lease came up. He added his low wages also make him dependent on Blue Slip food. 

Employees tired of the working conditions, which Bosart said included increasing employees’ responsibilities rather than hiring more staff and an ever-changing rule book, started organizing about 3 1/2 years ago, and then the UFCW Local 555 reached out to help. The push by New Seasons employees began in earnest at the beginning of 2017.

“We were seeing a lot of discrimination in the workplace and a lot of favoritism,” Bosart said.

New Seasons employee Sean Lilly said the company hired consulting firm Cruz & Associates to lead meetings that were supposed to be about informing employees of their NLRB rights, but instead the message was about how bad unions are; Cruz & Associates unsuccessfully worked with Trump Hotels to stop employees there from unionizing.

Bosart said she was fired an hour before the meeting at her store. She has since been hired on by UFCW Local 555, where she’s helping the New Seasons Workers United Steering Committee.

Because other grocers are unionized, Bosart said, it’s hard to compare wages with what New Seasons offers, but the contrast is more in benefits, pensions and employee representation.

She also criticized the company for pushing employees to use Zoom+Care clinics, which only offers basic health care — it is also owned by Endeavour Capital, Bosart said.

The Central District, and particularly 23rd and Union, is already rapidly gentrifying, and Bosart said residents there can expect that to be exacerbated by New Seasons Market coming into the neighborhood.

Karinda Harris, the new community manager for New Seasons in Seattle — previously external affairs liaison in former mayor Ed Murray’s office — told concerned Central District residents back in October that New Seasons will be focused on hiring people from within the community — there will be job fairs at the store this summer. She also said the company would be open to possibly negotiating a community benefits agreement that would meet certain amenities and standards desired by the community. The Good Jobs Coalition, which includes a number of local unions, reports no such agreement has been brought up since.

Bosart said New Seasons used to do a lot of job fairs for its stores, but Endeavour also has recruiters that get a say in who gets hired. She added they also get discount cards.

Good Jobs and the Washington Community Action Network will host a meeting regarding opposition to the Central District New Seasons Market 7-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at CASA Latina, 317 17th Ave. S.

The Capitol Hill Times has reached out to New Seasons Market, and will update this article should more information become available.