On Monday, a group of workers at PCC Natural Markets held a demonstration outside of the chain’s downtown location to call attention to what workers call low wages, insufficient staffing, and poor working conditions, setting the stage for what is likely going to be a contentious battle between workers and one of the city’s famously progressive chains.
PCC started out in the 1950s in Seattle as a food-buying club formed by several families. Over the years it gradually became a full-fledged grocery store, and then a chain with more than a dozen locations stretching from Bothell to Burien. Today it’s one of the most luxurious grocery shopping experiences in the Puget Sound region, but it still retains elements of its founding philosophy, including an emphasis on organic and non-GMO foods and a co-op structure; anyone can shop at a PCC store, but those who become members via a one-time fee get discounts and also sometimes an annual dividend based on how much all members spend at PCC stores as well as the overall state of the business.
Last year, when PCC announced that it had cut its dividend payments by 86 percent in 2021 (it had been $47 per member in 2020), it was a sign of falling profits even as sales had increased. The chain blamed the Covid hazard pay requirement put in place by the Seattle City Council, which mandated all grocery stores pay their workers an additional $4 per hour — a rule that the city government rescinded in early September, leading to grocery workers throughout the city losing pay.
The removal of hazard pay is a key issue for PCC employees, who are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 3000. The Seattle Times reported that 600 of the chain’s 1,800 employees have signed a petition asking PCC to restore the pandemic hazard pay raise and make it permanent. One worker told the paper that due to rising costs of living and the low pay, a PCC store set up a food pantry to help out employees who were going hungry.
Former City Council Member Kshama Sawant was at the rally on Monday as a representative of her new organization, Workers Strike Back, founded by Sawant and her political party, Socialist Alternative. She compared working conditions at PCC to those inside Amazon warehouses, another target of Workers Strike Back. (Sawant was one of two council members to vote against the ending of hazard pay.)
The union is asking PCC to start negotiations on a new contract as early as possible, and is signaling that they will be making significant demands. The current contract will expire at the end of 2023.
Eater Seattle has reached out to both UFCW 3000 and PCC and will update if we hear back. PCC released a statement to Kiro 7 that read in part: “Our co-op supports our staff’s free speech and organization rights. PCC is proud to partner with UFCW Local 3000. We look forward to beginning the collective bargaining process this summer, as planned.”