Know Your Rights: Working at New Seasons

Do you work at New Seasons Market in Seattle or Mercer Island and have questions about your rights at work?

A lot of New Seasons workers have asked questions about what, exactly, their employer is allowed to do when it comes to things like discipline and termination, and how you can assert your rights in the workplace, like access to sick leave, fair scheduling, and the right to speak up or meet with your coworkers to talk about your working conditions. Here’s a few basics that can help you get started, based on local and national labor laws.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask! If you click “contact us” below and provide your contact info, a fellow grocery worker will get in touch with you to answer your questions and connect you with other workers advocating for change. You can also reach an organizer with the Good Jobs Coalition at (206) 317-4503. If you want to stay anonymous, that’s okay. If you work at the Ballard store, you can also contact Seattle’s Fair Work Center.

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Table of Contents:

1. Points, Attendance, and Sick Time
2. Scheduling
3. Discrimination
4. Health, Safety, & Injury at Work
5. Right to discuss workplace concerns with your coworkers
6. Discipline & Termination
7. What to do when management violates your rights



Points, Attendance, and Sick Time

Lots of NSM employees have spoken up about the unfair points system, saying it puts pressure on you to be at work, even when you’re sick or have a personal emergency.

As employees in Washington State, you are entitled to a certain amount of paid sick leave that you cannot be punished for using.

  • NSM calls this time PST, and you accrue it at a rate of 1.33 hours for every 40 hours worked
  • If you do not have enough PST and PTO to cover your sick days, NSM will give you points, and if you get enough points you can be terminated
  • By law, you cannot receive discipline, points or be docked compensation for PST that you have accrued and that you use to care for yourself or a family member during illness or to deal with a domestic violence situation—that includes being denied a bonus, such as a “perfect attendance award”
  • Learn more about the state’s sick leave policy here
  • Learn more about the city’s sick leave policy here

Unfortunately, the law does not prevent NSM from giving you points for other attendance issues, including:

  • Being late to work (even if there’s a very good reason)
  • Staying home sick when you don’t have PST left
  • Having a personal or family emergency that is not covered by a policy like Family Medical Leave

Does that seem unfair? Lots of people agree. New Seasons workers have been demanding changes to the points system for years. The points system is the kind of policy that workers can bargain over when they form a union. But even if you’re not in a union, you always have the right to join with your coworkers to speak up about problems at work (see “Right to discuss workplace concerns with your coworkers,” below). Want to get involved? Get in touch:

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Some New Seasons employees have reported getting points removed from their record after they went and explained a tardy or absence to their manager. Without a formal process for review (like a union grievance procedure), your managers have no obligation to consider your request, but it may be worth a shot. You might want to consider bringing a coworker or two to  that conversation with your manager – there’s strength in numbers.



Scheduling

Employees at New Seasons’ Ballard store are covered by the Seattle Secure Scheduling Ordinance. This means you have the right to:

  • Know your schedule 14 days in advance
  • Request input into your schedule—and if you need a schedule change due to a a “major life event” your manager may be obligated to accommodate you
  • Have at least 10 hours off between shifts (unless you consent to a shorter time between shifts, in which case you must be paid time and a half for every hour that is separated by less than 10 hours)
  • Be compensated (“predictability pay) for involuntary changes that extend or shorten your hours by more than 15 minutes after the schedule is posted
  • Have access to work any available hours before management hires new employees to work them (if you are less than full time)

Learn more about the secure scheduling law here.

Have you requested a schedule that you were denied, had your schedule changed without extra compensation, or had any other parts of your scheduling rights violated? Or are you working in Mercer Island, and want to help expand the Secure Scheduling law statewide? Get in touch:

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Discrimination

Workers at NSM have concerns about disparate treatment and discrimination from management. There are federal, Washington State and local laws that protect you from discrimination at work.

It is against the law for NSM to discriminate against you in any way because of your: age, ancestry, citizenship status, color, creed, disability, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, honorably discharged veteran/military status, national origin, political ideology, race, religion, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, union membership or activity.

Discrimination can take many forms, but includes:

  • Giving you different or worse assignments or shifts
  • Disciplining you more harshly
  • Making offensive jokes or comments
  • Not hiring, transferring you or promoting you
  • Otherwise creating a hostile work environment based on the factors listed above

More info on your rights:

Federal: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
State: Washington State Human Rights Commission
City of Seattle: Seattle Office for Civil Rights

Have you been treated unfairly at work or seen your coworkers face discrimination? There are real ways to hold your employer accountable for discrimination. Get in touch:

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Health Safety and Injury at work

NSM has a poor track record on worker safety, and has had a higher than average injury rate in the past, compared to the grocery industry as a whole. Workers at NSM have experienced cuts, burns, falls, strains, and other injuries. Some report being discouraged from reporting workplace injuries.

You have the right to a healthy and safe workplace, and the right to report safety problems you notice or injuries you suffer at work.

  • If you notice a safety hazard, you’re encouraged to report it to your manager, but if they don’t make changes or you’re not comfortable reporting it to your boss, you can file a complaint about it to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).
  • If you get hurt while you’re working, you have the right to apply for Workers’ Compensation, which could help you pay for medical treatment or lost wages, no matter whose “fault” the injury was. All workers have the right to receive workers’ compensation, including undocumented workers. You can get more information or apply for Workers Compensation at the same department, L&I.
  • If you’re bringing safety concerns to management, enlist a coworker or group of coworkers to come with you if you can, so you’re not going it alone.

Have you or a coworker been hurt on the job, or noticed safety issues that management isn’t fixing? If you have any questions about what to do next or just want to tell someone about it, get in touch:

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Right to discuss workplace concerns with your coworkers

Some workers at NSM have been speaking up about their working conditions.

The National Labor Relations Act protects your basic right to take action with coworkers to improve wages and working conditions even if you are not in a union.

This is called “concerted activity.” Concerted activity means that you are speaking with or on behalf of yourself and your coworkers to improve your working conditions. Being protected means that any punishment for your activity, including being fired, is illegal.

There are also protections for workers who want to form a union. Whether you support a union in public or private is totally up to you, and it is illegal for management to grill anyone about union activity, or to threaten, harass, or discriminate against anyone because of union activity. You can learn more about your rights at the National Labor Relations Board site.

Have you heard of management spying on people who talk about making changes or unionizing, disciplining people or treating them differently because they speak up, or otherwise infringing on your right to engage in concerted activity? Get in touch:

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Discipline & Termination

When can my boss fire me?

In Washington State, all employees are “at-will” – unless they are covered by a union contract with “just cause” language.

  • Just cause means that your employer must prove they have a legitimate reason to discipline or terminate you and must follow progressive discipline.
  • At-will means that your employer can discipline or terminate you for any reason or no reason at all. However, at-will employees cannot be terminated for discriminatory reasons or as retaliation for enforcing their rights.

If you’ve been disciplined or terminated unfairly, you’re not alone, and there may be a remedy. Want to talk to someone about it, and work to make changes at NSM? Get in touch:

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What to do when management violates your rights

If you notice managers violating these rights, save any documentation of the situation that you can—that could be emails, texts, or other written communication. Take notes about the details: date, time, who said what, if anyone else witnessed it. And then get in touch with someone who can help. You have a few different options:

  1. Contact the Good Jobs Coalition, which includes community groups and the local grocery, retail, and health care union UFCW 21. A fellow grocery worker will reach out to discuss your options for enforcing your rights.
  2. Contact the Seattle Fair Work Center. The Fair Work Center is a hub for workers to understand and exercise their legal rights, improve working conditions and connect with community resources in Seattle.
  3. If you decide to address your concerns directly to management, we recommend bringing some coworkers—there is power in numbers!

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