New Seasons Market, the 21-store, Portland, Oregon-=based food retailer, is facing a unionization movement from an element within its employee base that objects to what it calls a rollback in health benefits and a change in company culture since a 2009 investment in the company by investment group Endeavour Capital.

According to a story in the Oregonian, “Employees are holding a rally outside the North Portland store, 3445 N Williams Ave, at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The workers are backed by UFCW Local 555, which represents 25,000 members – largely retail workers in grocery stores – in Oregon and Southwest Washington.”

The story notes that “New Seasons says it treats its employees better than others in the industry. While it previously offered health insurance to those working as little as one shift, workers will soon be required to log 24 hours a week to qualify, up from the current 20-hour threshold.”

In a prepared statement, the company says that it places “as much value on taking care of our staff, communities and environment as we do in growing a sustainable and profitable business.”

KC's View: I’m sympathetic to both sides on this one. I can understand why the employees object to the increase in mandated hours before you get health care coverage, but I can also understand why the company needs to make such a move in order to maintain financial viability.

And while the investment by a financial group almost certainly is going to have some sort of impact on a corporate culture, such investments also allow a company to grow (which New Seasons has), which then creates new opportunities for people who want to grow with it. It also allows the company to be more competitive in a space in which it is getting increasingly hard to survive.

A core problem for the employees is that a union is seen by management as being the enemy, as an entity that makes the company less competitive, not more so. I’ve long believed that this is something that union leadership needs to address if they are going to be seen in anything but a negative light. And management has to be open to seeing the union in a new light.

There will be those who will argue that if the employees think that Endeavour created a change in New Seasons’ culture, just wait until the UFCW gets involved … that there will be a level of intractability that won’t be good for anyone.