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West Fairbanks Fred Meyer employees seek union representation

West Fairbanks Fred Meyer store was the highest-grossing store in the Kroger chain in 2016.
Alaska Dispatch
West Fairbanks Fred Meyer store was the highest-grossing store in the Kroger chain in 2016.

About 100 workers at the West Fairbanks Fred Meyer store have asked to join the United Food and Commercial Workers. Yesterday they presented a letter to the store’s management. The non-grocery workers would join grocery, and meat & seafood employees in the store, who are already represented by the same union.

On Wednesday, United Food and Commercial Workers, or UFCW local 1496, announced they had a request from more than 2/3 of the non-grocery workers who signed union cards at the West Fairbanks Fred Meyer store.

Louie Afusia from UFCW’s Anchorage office came to Fairbanks this week in response.

“They had reached out to us that they were wanting to form a union. That's what brought me here. The workers that were non-union wanted to form a union, which is in the home department, apparel, electronics, and ClickList, floral, fuel station and garden,” Afusia said.

Managers, Pharmacy and Jewelry staff would be excluded.

Already in the West Fairbanks Fred Meyer store, about 100 employees in the grocery departments and in the meat and seafood department are represented by UFCW.

Jill Kennedy of UFCW International says the workers are concerned about respect and wages.

“They’re watching their coworkers in a union department get better, pay better benefits, and they have a voice in their workplace,” Kennedy said.

Yesterday at the store, a worker presented what’s called “a letter of voluntary recognition” to the store’s management. The next step is for an independent third party, an arbitrator or mediator, to look at the cards signed by employees, and verify they are workers at the store. Then the store can recognize the union, or not.

Silvana Tirban, the Unit Representative for Fairbanks says it is unlikely Kroger, the corporate owner of Fred Meyer stores, would accept the union voluntarily, and would likely require an election among the workers.

Jill Kennedy says grocery stores in Alaska have a lot of vacancies, and hiring practices and incoming wages have changed.

“ $17.75 is where they top out. However, because Kroger has been unable to maintain their staffing, they are bringing people in, new people, at the top of the wage scale, even though there are people who've been there for a long time, who -- that's their wage,” Kennedy said. "It is disheartening for long-term employees."

UFCW organizers from Fairbanks and Anchorage said they telephoned Kroger’s Senior Director of Labor Relations, Sean Hammond in Canby, Oregon on Wednesday, to tell him they were answering the workers at the West store. Hammond did not respond to questions about how the store might accommodate employees who do not want to join a union.

But Jeffery Temple, of Corporate Affairs for Fred Meyer Stores, Inc., responded by email with this statement:

“We respect our associates(sic) right to choose what’s best for them. At Fred Meyer we are committed to continuing to provide total (a) compensation package that rewards our associates, provides industry leading healthcare and a retirement plan for their future.”

UFCW Local 1496 also represents Meat and Seafood workers at the Fred Meyer East store in Fairbanks, and all Safeway and Carr’s stores in Alaska. If this organizing attempt is successful, only the cashiers at the West Fairbanks store will be unrepresented.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.