Mrs. Green’s union vote canceled amid new complaints

By Mark Lungariello

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A vote by Mrs. Green’s Natural Market employees on whether to unionize has been delayed amid new charges that ownership violated federal labor laws leading up to the vote.

Employees had filed for a union election in May 2013 but lost by three votes, with union members saying the results had been skewed due to the meddling of store management. If the October vote failed, employees would have to wait another year to hold a third unionization vote.

John Collins, a spokesman for Mrs. Green’s, said the company has been supportive of its employees, offering profit sharing as well as bonuses and discounts to hourly employees.

“It is apparent that union bosses are using these desperate delay tactics because they believed Mrs. Green’s associates – in a secret, government-supervised election – would vote against them,” Collins said.

The National Labor Relations Board told the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 union that the Oct. 17 election would be canceled in a letter dated just one day ahead of the vote.

The letter came after the union filed 13 charges against the Mount Kisco branch on Oct. 8, including accusations that the employer used surveillance to monitor employees’ union activities. Other charges say Mrs. Green’s cut certain employees’ hours in retaliation for support of the union.

Union President Bruce Both took issue with Pat Brown, who became Mrs. Green’s CEO in July. “We’re disappointed that Mrs. Green’s new CEO has decided to take the company in the same direction as their former CEO,” Both said.

Brown replaced Robin Michel, whose tenure had been marked by a tense relationship with labor that included a number of charges of labor law violations and the firing of 10 employees from the Mount Kisco store leading to six months of picket lines. Eight of those employees were reinstated in July after Brown became CEO.

“Mrs. Green’s management is clearly intimidated by their employees banding together to collectively demand more from their employer, and the company has repeatedly shown they are willing to do whatever it takes, including breaking federal labor laws, to keep the union out,” Both said.

There are roughly 20 Mrs. Green’s locations in the U.S. and Canada. The Mount Kisco store was tagged as needing improvement after a nationwide analysis of the performance of all locations. At the time of the analysis, the Mount Kisco location was tagged low-performing. According to the labor union, new management took over that store in December 2012, after a former manager was fired. The company settled with the labor board and agreed to post a notice of employees’ federal labor rights for 60 days after accusations that management had met with employees prior to the unsuccessful union vote. Organizers said the 10 employees were fired during the posting period.

The original Mrs. Green’s was opened in Briarcliff Manor in 1990 by Harold and June Hochberger. It expanded to 11 locations by 2007, when it was sold to Planet Organic Health Corp., a Canadian company and owner of several supermarket chains looking to establish a foothold in the U.S. organic market. Planet was later acquired by Catalyst Capital Group, a private equity company.

The vote on whether to unionize is expected to be pushed back at least two months until the labor board rules on the latest accusations of unfair labor practices.

According to Mrs. Green’s, the Mount Kisco location became one of its top performing stores in recent months. Collins, the company’s spokesman, said management and customers have never been more proud of the employees, which ownership calls “associates.”

“We hope these meritless accusations can get resolved quickly so that associates can have the right to choose for themselves,” he said.

Local 1500 represents workers at Pathmark, D’Agostino’s, Fairway and Stop & Shop grocery stores.

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About the author

Mark Lungariello
Mark Lungariello is a former contributing editor to the Westchester and Fairfield business journals. He also wrote features for WAG magazine. Lungariello graduated from Columbia Journalism School and has won New York Press Association awards as an editor, columnist and reporter.

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