New Seasons Market isn’t living up to its brand: Guest opinion

By Rob Nosse

If you live or work in the Portland metro area, the odds are pretty good that you’ve bought something from a New Seasons Market. There is one not too far from my house — I have three in my legislative district, plus the headquarters. I bet I stop by on my way home from work at least once a week for something. Many of us associate their brand with words like “organic,” “healthy,” “local,” “friendly,” even “ethical” and “progressive.” I know I do.  The company has worked hard to build that image as part of their brand, and until recently, I would have said they mostly lived up to it.

Sadly, those last two descriptors, “ethical” and “progressive,” have been challenged over the last several months. I am concerned that the New Seasons I have known and patronized is changing.
Most of you know I am a gay man, and I am a strong advocate for organized labor. When I was young, I made a deliberate choice to pursue a career in the labor movement. I have seen how solidarity in the workplace contributes to safe working conditions, and how good pay and benefits help a person live and support a family.
It is no secret that the local leadership of New Seasons is moving on. It is also well known that the employees of New Seasons are trying to figure out if a union makes sense for them. As a company, New Seasons has professed that it is important for agricultural workers to be paid appropriately or for coffee growers in other countries to be treated fairly for their labor. They support fair trade brands. They advocated for an increase in our state’s minimum wage.
Yet when New Seasons’ own workers began talking about organizing into a union to improve their working conditions, New Seasons hired the Trump Hotel’s “union avoidance consultant” and, according to employees, it intimidated employees who favored having a union.  This hardly seems ethical or progressive or even friendly to me.

New Seasons is majority-owned by funds managed by Endeavour Capital. It’s also come to light Endeavour Capitol and New Seasons are connected to the Vancouver, Wash.-based M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Since 2000, the Murdock Trust has invested millions in Endeavor Capital funds, including those that own New Seasons. This means, the Murdock Trust benefits from New Season’s profits. For those that do not know, the Murdock Trust funds the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom with nearly $1 million dollars, and the anti-worker Freedom Foundation with nearly half a million, as well as various anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” with nearly $2 million dollars throughout our region.
One of the trust’s grantees also include the Portland Fellowship, an Oregon organization that offers”biblical instruction, accountability groups and counseling” to “liberate” LGBTQ people from their same-sex attraction. In 2015, the Portland Fellowship opposed the Oregon legislation banning the use of “gay conversion therapy” on minors a bill that I helped to pass in my first term.

Sadly, instead of disavowing the work of its investor, New Seasons’ leadership defended and made excuses for the Murdock Trust, claiming that its grantees have “diverse viewpoints, perspectives and missions.” Endeavour Capital, the private equity firm that owns the majority of New Seasons, also minimized the connection and failed to condemn the Murdock Trust or any of its grantees. This is not an acceptable answer for me, and I would guess it is not acceptable to most Portlanders, either.
Maybe they have to defend it because the connection between New Seasons and Endeavour is very close. After all, two of Endeavour’s managing directors are on New Seasons’ Board of Directors.
New Seasons promotes itself as a progressive, pro-worker company. I want the company to live up to those claims. They need to cut their ties to the Murdock Trust as best as they can, and they need to support the right of their employees to organize and join a union and bargain collectively for a contract without aggressive interference.

Rep. Rob Nosse is a Democrat who represents Northeast and Southeast Portland.
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