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Labor board: Fred Meyer, QFC ban on Black Lives Matter buttons violated law

UPDATED: SEPTEMBER 20, 2021 AT 2:44 PM
BY
MyNorthwest Reporter

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a ruling late last week, stating that Fred Meyer and QFC violated labor laws when they banned grocery store employees from wearing Black Lives Matter-themed face masks and buttons.

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Kroger — the Seattle-based parent company that operates both businesses — responded to employees wearing BLM masks in the workplace by banning them outright. Workers then instead chose to wear union-distributed BLM buttons, which were also subsequently banned. The company offered black and white bracelets that read “Standing Together” as an alternative.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 (UFCW 21) then filed an unfair labor charge with the NLRB, alleging that Kroger had failed to adequately bargain with the union over rules surrounding the wearing of buttons at work, and had prohibited workers from engaging in a protest against racism and inequality.

“One of the core values of the store is inclusion, so we did not think ‘Black Lives Matter’ was a radical statement for this business,” University Village QFC checker Motoko Kusanagi said in a news release. “The amount of pushback we received for such a small showing of support still sits wrong with me to this day. I’m glad we could fight back.”

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UFCW 21 will next look to reach a settlement agreement with Kroger, “which would likely require a change to company policy,” the union said. If a settlement can’t be reached, a formal complaint will be filed, followed by a trial in front of an administrative law judge.

Moving forward, a spokesperson with Kroger told KIRO Radio that the company “looks forward to reviewing the proposed settlement agreement,” and that it is “unequivocal in standing with our black associates, [and] deeply listening and taking action to advance more diverse, inclusive and equitable communities.”

A similar dispute played out among Starbucks employees last year, when the company reversed a ban on Black Lives Matter shirts and pins after facing significant backlash on social media.