Mrs. Green’s settles labor dispute, rehires workers | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Mrs. Green’s settles labor dispute, rehires workers

BY SERGEI KLEBNIKOV | Mrs. Green’s Natural Market, which is set to open a location in the West Village next month, has just settled a drawn-out labor dispute with a local worker’s union.

The upscale market, which prides itself on its organic produce, was accused of breaching a prior settlement when it fired several employees earlier this year. Now, Mrs. Green’s has reached an agreement with the associates and opposing parties, rendering the federal charges against them irrelevant. After the agreement was reached, John Collins, the Senior Vice President at Mercury LLC, a public affairs strategy firm that represented Mrs. Green’s during the dispute, released this statement:

“Mrs. Green’s Natural Market is proud of its associates – employing more full-time associates than its competitors, giving bonuses and discounts to hourly employees, and creating profit sharing and promotional opportunities for our team members – and today’s agreement honors that core value. Store leadership embrace these values and core principles and has stepped forward to do the right thing for its associates. Now we are moving forward with a shared commitment to provide Mt. Kisco families with organic, local and all-natural products and access to a healthier lifestyle.”

Pressuring Mrs. Green’s to give in was the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1500.

The market agreed on Tuesday., July 15, to reinstate the employees — who were fired from the company’s Mt. Kisco location in January — with backpay as compensation. This agreement may mark the end of a labor dispute between UFCW 1500 and Mrs. Green’s that started in May 2013.

Last year, according to Mrs. Green’s, after an analysis of its location in Mt. Kisco, it was determined that store sales were not as good as they should be, and Mrs. Green’s decided that the employees’ service needed to improve. Meetings then ensued as some workers pushed to unionize, but the workers as a whole ultimately voted not to unionize.

After losing the bid for a union election, UFCW 1500 lodged charges that the company “took advantage of its workers” and used threatening tactics to prevent them from unionizing.

Subsequently, in June, the National Labor Relations Board charged Mrs. Green’s with violating federal labor laws, by performing illegal interrogation and intimidation of employees in the weeks leading up to the vote on whether to form a union. A hearing was conducted, and charges were settled in November. Mrs. Green’s agreed under federal order to create an intimidation-free environment for its workers — as well as post a 60-day notice in the store informing workers of their rights. But the union wasn’t completely satisfied.

“The settlement wasn’t what we had hoped,” summed up Aly Waddy, UFCW 1500’s director of organizing.

The posted notice remained in the store throughout December and until January, when eight workers, who were reportedly pro-union, were abruptly fired, “allegedly for bad customer service,” as Waddy said.

Mrs. Green’s, for its part, says it assessed its Mt. Kisco location, and decided that several employees needed to be let go – the union claims that the store saw them as “lower quality.” The Mrs. Green’s spokesperson stated that the store didn’t know who was part of a union or not – the manager, who isn’t even allowed to unionize, was amongst
those fired, he pointed out. But the union was adamant that the workers were fired as retribution after having tried to hold a union vote.

UFCW 1500 immediately filed charges, calling the firings “illegal retaliation” from the previous settlement. The union pointed out thaT the fired workers had all been leading supporters of the union — and had spoken out during the vote — and that community members testified that the charges of bad customer service against the workers were untrue.

Picket lines sprung up outside the Mt. Kisco market, and have been ongoing for several months. Last May, after an internal investigation by the N.L.R.B., its regional director found merit to the union’s unfair labor practice charges against Mrs. Green’s and filed a federal complaint against the company, revoking the previous settlement. The
case was set for a trial late this month.

Waddy said that the union’s objective had been to get the workers rehired without the difficulty of going to trial, since “it’s a disgrace what they’ve been through already.”

On May 23, after talks with the company board, Robin Michel decided to step down as Mrs. Green’s C.E.O., into a senior advisory role. Pat Brown, who has replaced Michel as C.E.O., has brought “new leadership” to Mrs. Green’s, and helped make a “concerted effort to solve the problem,” according to Collins.

The company still hopes to open in the West Village, which is part of a regional plan to increase store expansion, Collins said. He added that Mrs. Green’s was “excited about the great opportunity” to open at 585 Hudson St., at Bank St., in the West Village.

This would be the company’s first New York City location. Mrs. Green’s has 17 other locations in the tri-state area, and also plans new markets in Chicago and the Mid-Atlantic area.