Former Employees Strike Back With Anti-Yokes Campaign
February 16, 2017
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The Spokane branch of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) started an anti-Yoke’s campaign in response to their clients, previously Cheney Trading Company, who said they were let go from their positions once Yoke’s Fresh Market took over the Cheney Trading Co. location.
“Inform the public,” said UFCW secretary-treasurer Eric Renner about the campaign. “Let people know. [Yoke’s] is telling you that they’re this great, locally-owned company that does these wonderful things, but, you know, let’s pull back the curtain here and see what’s really going on.”
The campaign’s message has reached Yoke’s, in which the chief executive officer, John Bole, called the campaign a “low blow, according to a Nov. 25 Spokesman-Review article.
Bole said “I’m proud of what we did.” Yoke’s store manager, Chad Moses, echoed similar sentiments.
“My thoughts are people are going to say what they want to say,” said Moses. “We’re a local company that’s been around since 1946. We employ a lot of people in this town … we’re a great company. As far as the negative stuff, I’m not going to dwell on the negative.”
Back in July 2016, Paul Matejovski and Gary Morgan, who previously owned the Trading Company, decided to sell the chain as the two were looking to retire, Yoke’s store manager Chad Moses said.
It was written in the purchase agreement that once the trading company stores were sold, Yoke’s had no obligation to hire back any Trading Company employees.
Once Yoke’s took over, the employees who were terminated were then told to reapply in order to get their jobs back, but as stated, there was no guarantee that the employees would be hired. This left employees who had worked there for numerous years out of their current job, no health care benefits and their vested pension interrupted.
Although the contract said Yoke’s had no preference to hire any Trading Company employees, Moses said there was preference for those employees.
“They were given preference,” said Moses. “They were all interviewed. They were all offered an interview, and they all chose to come to the interview or not come to the interview, and that was the preference.”
Renner said what happened at the Cheney Trading Company was not the first time.
It all began in December 2014 and January 2015, when Haggen Grocery Store purchased a number of stores in the Pacific Northwest, Renner said. One of those locations included was the Safeway store in Liberty Lake, in which UFCW was the representative for some employees at the time of the switch.
Renner said the unions and Haggen’s came to an agreement there would be no interruption when it came to the switch; employees were able to continue their jobs and keep their benefits. Then, about eight months later, Haggen’s went bankrupt.
Initially, Rosauer’s had agreed to acquire the store. Renner said there was an agreement in place between Rosauer’s and the UFCW to ensure there would be no interruption regarding their employees’ status, just as Haggen did when they first made the purchase. When the actual time came to bid for the store location, Rosauer’s was outbid by Yoke’s.
Hoping to reach a similar outcome as they were able to with Rosauer’s, Renner sent a letter to Yoke’s to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement in December 2015. After not receiving a response, Renner sent another letter in February 2016. He received a response, in which Yoke’s directed them to Michael Harrington of Helsell Fetterman law firm to answer additional questions.
“So, they weren’t willing to talk to us,” Renner said.
In all, Renner said at least 65 employees jobs were interrupted, a good percentage of them being long-term workers. He said he is not exactly sure the total number of affected employees who were hired back, as Yoke’s would not release that information.
Fast-forward to summer 2016 after the Trading Company sale went through, Renner said he sent a letter to Yoke’s again, asking to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Again, Renner said he was deferred to Harrington.
“Here we have, you know, these people, once again their lives are completely disrupted,” said Renner. “We have one member that was out on leave with stage-four cancer that was never offered a job, Don Damon. Here he is, losing his health care plan and everything else.”
When asked about why some of those employees were not hired back, Moses said he would not speak on the matter.
“I’m not going to get into that,” said Moses. “That’s beyond me. I don’t know, that’s a question for my corporate office. As far as I know, most people were offered a job back.”
As for the campaign, Renner said he has received mostly positive feedback from the community. Moving forward, there is no real end date for the campaign in Renner’s eyes.
“It’s going to continue,” says Renner. “It’s not going to stop any time soon.” •