(Yesterday's) Afternoon Jolt: Grocery Workers Cry Foul on Liquor Privatization Initiative

By Afternoon Jolt October 19, 2010

Today's Winners: Corporate Honchos at Safeway and Fred Meyer

Workers at Fred Meyer and Safeway stores in the Puget Sound area have sent at least a dozen complaint letters to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) recently, saying managers at their stores are forcing them to put "Yes on 1100" campaign flyers into shoppers' grocery bags. The complaint letters were coordinated by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21.

Initiative 1100 would take the state completely out of the liquor sales game, benefiting stores like Fred Meyer and Safeway, who stand to make big profits from the privatization of liquor sales. Fred Meyer and Safeway have donated $224,000 and $664,410 to the initiative campaign, respectively.

Unfortunately for the workers, the PDC says there's nothing they can do about the grocery store scheming—it's not illegal for store managers to ask their employees to distribute campaign literature. It's only illegal for them to discipline and punish workers for not distributing the literature. So far, the UFCW hasn't been able to prove that's what's going on. Additionally, both Safeway and Fred Meyer appear to have reported the grocery-bag campaigning as an in-kind contribution to the Yes on 1100 campaign, so there's no campaign finance argument to be made, either.

UFCW spokesperson Tom Geiger says he didn't know how many stores state-wide had adopted the policy, and that the UFCW had received complaints from at least 15 grocery workers from across the Puget Sound region. The policy apparently came all the way down from the stores' corporate leadership. ("We are asking you to have your cashiers put a bag stuffer/flyer in the first bag of each transaction," reads a corporate memo from Fred Meyer public affairs director Melinda Merrill to store managers.)

Today's losers? Grocery workers who don't like being told to campaign for an initiative they don't support.

The workers say they feel they're being pressured into stuffing grocery bags with pro-1100 propaganda, even if they can't prove discrimination to the commission.

"The difference between a requirement and a request from a manager is sometimes in the eye of the beholder," says Geiger.
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