‘I want to be treated like a person:’ Fred Meyer employees file to unionize

RICHLAND, Wash. — Eden Hill, 21, has spent the last year and a half working long, tiring days at the Fred Meyer in Richland.

Hill works in the Clicklist Department where customers order their groceries online, she shops for them, and then brings out the haul to their car at an agreed date and time — a practice made more popular during the coronavirus pandemic.

She describes the environment as a “go, go, go atmosphere with zero breaks” leading to exhaustion and burnout.

“We don’t have a lot of staff and most of the staff that we do have calls out a lot or goes home early because of how intense the job is,” Hill said. “So we end up very overworked with late orders and a lot of angry customers but there’s not much we can do about it other than just keep going.”

Hill said there is a major lack of staffing across all of the departments so whenever she asks for help on days “where we’re struggling really hard” there’s not much to be given.

Because of the staffing shortage, Hill works overtime on a regular basis.

“It’s usually my days off or the days I’m scheduled for shorter shifts that it’s either I’m being called in to pick up a shift on my day off or to come in early or to be prepared to stay late,” Hill said.

It’s gotten to the point where she doesn’t have time to spend with friends or family. Instead, she’s waiting by the phone for a call from management.

“They usually call me in and so there’s no work and life balance,” Hill said.

When she tries to leave when she’s supposed to, she’s overwrought with guilt.

“I would love to feel like I’m a person because I feel almost like a workhorse a lot of the time. If I go home when I’m scheduled to be off, I’m hurting the rest of the store because they still need help,” Hill said.

Another frustrating issue is the low pay.

Hill said she can’t afford to rent an apartment on her own while working at Fred Meyer but her constantly changing schedule doesn’t allow her to pick up a second job besides working occasionally as a dog-sitter.

“Everyone always says, ‘Why don’t you just get a second job? A lot of people do that and then they can afford an apartment by themselves,'” Hill said. “But since my schedule is never consistent, I don’t know when my days off are. I don’t know if I’m going to get a morning shift and can schedule a second job for afternoon shifts. Since each week comes out differently I don’t have the ability to tell a second location what my availability is.”

Her devotion to the role is because she likes her job but it’s gotten to the point where she needs a change.

And she’s not the only one.

Hill is just one out of 249 other employees who recently filed to unionize.

According to a press release issued by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1439 group, this will become the first time that grocery store workers in Eastern Washington will join a union by-election in recent memory. The workers will then be represented by the union once cleared by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“We are here to help them speak out,” said Patricia Estes, a union organizer and a former employee at a unionized Fred Meyer.

Estes said her experience was vastly different than Hill’s and she credits the union for that reason.

“We had that stability and that job security. I knew how many hours I was working and what my wages were going to be and when my wage increases were going to be,” Estes said. “It’s kind of alarming seeing and hearing some of the worker’s stories that are happening in this store. You can’t force employers to listen to you. The unions are great ways to have that voice heard.”

Union officials said the Richland location is one of three in Washington state that aren’t unionized. The other two are in Kennewick and Ellensburg.

“I would love for this to be a push to get the Kennewick Fred Meyer and some other stores to start the steps to become a union also because that’s an important thing for us all to feel like we’re being supported and being taken care of no matter where you work,” Hill said.

So far, there has not been a date set for the union vote. But Hill said she’s wishing that others will agree.

“I hope for more money for the amount of work that we do. I’m hoping for a better set schedule, and a better support system within the people that I work with,” Hill said. “I just want them to understand that we’re not doing this because we don’t like this place. It’s because we want to be treated equally. I don’t want to hate my job. I have to be here a lot and so I want to enjoy it and I want to feel like we are all part of the same thing.”

KAPP-KVEW has reached out multiple times to the company for a statement but as of this publication, we have not heard back.

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