United Food and Commercial Workers Local 653 launched an informational picket June 17 at the opening of non-union Glen Lake’s Market in Minnetonka.
The union is urging the public to not patronize Glen Lake’s Market, 14400 Excelsior Blvd. in Minnetonka, and a sister store, Victoria’s Market, 7999 Victoria Drive in Victoria. Informational picketing by Local 653 members is underway at both stores.
Both stores opened at the sites of two former Fresh Seasons grocery stores which closed abruptly in May 2014 — with tens of thousands of dollars owed to the 120 UFCW Local 653 members who worked at the two stores.
Fresh Seasons also closed owing many thousands more dollars to the Minneapolis Retail Meat Cutter and Food Handlers Health, Welfare, and Pension Fund, the union said.
Former Fresh Seasons owner Tom Wartman has an ownership interest in the two former Fresh Seasons buildings which now house the new Glen Lake’s Market and Victoria’s Market. He also is helping to open the two new non-union grocery stores, the union’s newsletter reported.
“I’ve never seen the landlord of a building be at the store to open it in the morning and work in and around the store until he closes it at night,” noted Matt Utecht, UFCW Local 653 president.
“UFCW 653 believes that Tom Wartman should prioritize paying his former employees the money that they earned before working to benefit himself by reopening the stores,” Utecht said in a letter that union members are distributing to the public on the two picket lines.
Local 653 is pursuing legal action against Wartman while at the same time applying public pressure with the picket lines at Glen Lake’s Market and Victoria’s Market. “Our plan is to keep them there seven days a week until we can get justice,” Utecht vowed.
Former Fresh Seasons employees are on the picket lines, telling the public and former customers what happened to them.
At Glen Lake’s Market June 17, passersby recognized the former Fresh Seasons employees on the picket line and stopped to chat.
“We’re all former Fresh Seasons employees and we’re trying to get Tom Wartman to do the right thing,” explained UFCW Local 653 member Mary Page, Minnetonka, who was the Fresh Seasons store manager at that site from the time it opened in 2005 to when it closed in 2014.
“Our goal is to get our wages, our benefits, our vacation pay, personal holidays —basically money that he owes us,” added Gunars Sprenger-Otto, Minneapolis, UFCW Local 653 member who was the former Fresh Seasons produce manager at the Minnetonka store.
“I was here for so long I would know a lot of the customers who would come here to check this place out,” Page told the Labor Review. “They won’t support this store because they know the way we were treated.”
“We had what we thought was a superior store, superior service,” Page added. “Everyone was very appreciative of us and our store. It was special.”
UFCW members at Fresh Seasons accepted wage freezes and didn’t take paid vacation days or paid personal holidays to try to help keep the stores open when the stores began struggling financially.
Their reward: Wartman closed the stores with only three days notice and one year later still hasn’t paid what he owes his former employees.
“We still did right by him” right up until the stores closed, Sprenger-Otto said. “It’s hurtful that he can’t do right by us.”
“We did what we believed in when the store was open and we’re doing it now,” said Sprenger-Otto, who was joined on the picket line by his daughter Maya.
“People I’ve talked to very strongly support us. It feels they truly care what’s going on,” said picketer Dan Flynn, Minnetonka, UFCW Local 653 member who started at Fresh Seasons as a bagger and moved up to store supervisor.
“Our message has been received very warmly by the community,” echoed UFCW Local 653 president Matt Utecht. “Nobody is asking for anything they haven’t earned.”