Market of Choice employees from across the state protested outside of its Willamette Street branch on Monday.
Employees and community members gathered to protest store management’s decision to forbid workers from wearing clothes displaying support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as other new corporate policy decisions.
“This is an important time in our lives,” employee Madeline Ritchie said, and that corporate leadership had a choice to either support the movement or “support hate.”
A Market of Choice spokesperson was not available for comment in time for publication.
Organizers said the group, around 50 people over the course of the day, first met at 11 a.m., and planned to stay until 9 p.m. Organizers said that store management said they would call the police if protesters demonstrated on store property, forcing the group to demonstrate outside of its two entrances on West 29th Avenue as well as its Willamette Street entrance.
The group marched from West 29th Avenue toward Willamette Street, chanting slogans like “Black Lives Matter,” “No justice, no peace” and “Market of Hypocrisy.” Drivers honked in support as they drove by.
Organizers said that workers from Corvallis, Belmont, Portland and Eugene all showed up for the protest.
Some wore their Market of Choice gear: hats and green shirts with graphics instructing people to stand six feet apart. Many wore the face masks that management told them to remove — black face masks, with “Black Lives Matter” written in white on the left side.
Kendall Hocking, one of the protest’s organizers, had been there since 11 a.m. Hocking said that employees are looking for corporate leadership to express solidarity, to encourage change and have uncomfortable conversations. Hocking said the group wished to see more promotion of Black History Month in stores, as well as other celebrations like Pride.
Because Oregon is an at-will state — meaning a store can fire an employee without giving a reason, and an employee can quit without giving a reason, according to BLR — Hocking said it was unclear whether employees would lose their jobs over the protests.
The group also objected to the company’s recent decision to end hourly workers’ hazard pay, she said, as well as the decision to end its revised attendance policy. It included paid time-off and had stores work “on a case-by-case basis” to support employees who missed work because they were sick, according to the company’s website.
Employees protested outside of the Corvallis location from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. over the weekend, Hocking said, with plans to organize at the Delta Oaks location next. Organizers encouraged protesters to complain to store management about their policy, if they were comfortable doing so.
Ritchie, a supervisor at the Delta Oaks store, said workers wanted to open up lines of communication between workers and corporate leadership.
“This should not be a divisive thing,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie said a store manager told her to take off the Black Lives Matter mask she was wearing. She said she went to other employees who had been asked to remove their Black Lives Matter masks, and they decided to walk out, instead.
Across the state, other Market of Choice employees followed suit. Ritchie said that wearing the mask shows that the store is a safe place to shop for Black, Indigenous and People of Color, and that it was an opportunity to do the right thing.
“It’s not political, it’s civil rights,” Ritchie said, “and civil rights are not political.”
“At Market of Choice, we stand with the Black Community,” Market of Choice CEO Rick Wright wrote on Instagram. “We believe Black Lives Matter. We support our Black Team Members, Customers and Vendors and do not tolerate racial bias, discrimination or injustice at our stores or in our communities.”
Abbi Bowen works at the Corvallis branch of Market of Choice. She said that she helped organize protests there and was prepared to demonstrate for an extended period of time. She said she believed the policy about not wearing Black Lives Matter clothing came from the top-down.
“Black lives matter,” Bowen said, “and the employees of Market of Choice truly believe that.” Even though the company’s stance is up in the air, she said, its workers support the movement. “We’re willing to risk our jobs for this movement,” she said.