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Rainbow Blossom employees launch union effort, seeking stronger voice in the workplace

Rainbow Blossom workers announced their organizing effort with United Food and Commercial Workers in late July.
Jacob Munoz
/
LPM
Rainbow Blossom workers announced their organizing effort with United Food and Commercial Workers in late July.

Staff at the local grocery chain Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets are organizing with the Louisville-based United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227. They argue the company hasn’t done enough to address their concerns.

Rainbow Blossom workers announced their unionizing campaign late last month. They’ve filed with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private-sector union elections, for an employee vote at the company’s Gardiner Lane location.

An election is scheduled for September 13, according to Caitlin Blair, Local 227’s communications director. That vote could include up to 28 workers, such as department managers, cashiers and sales floor clerks at the store.

Blair said the plan to seek an election among employees at one store, rather than at all stores, is meant to create organizing momentum.

“We made the strategic decision to go with Gardiner Lane first, as we continue to build this company-wide union,” Blair said.

Rainbow Blossom has operated in the Louisville area for more than 40 years and has five locations. It promotes organic offerings and sells produce, meat and poultry, nutritional supplements and other items.

Workers supporting the union want to negotiate for changes like higher wages, higher company transparency, and improved working conditions.

Taylor Healy is an assistant produce department manager at Rainbow Blossom’s St. Matthews store and supports the union effort. She said since she began working at the company about a year ago, she’s had concerns about safety in her workplace.

“I started noticing the issues right away, and I'd raise red flags like, ‘Hey, this seems dangerous,’” Healy said.

She said she’s felt Rainbow Blossom leaders have ignored those problems. She wants the company to give workers more influence in decision-making processes.

Ian Suttles also works at the St. Matthews location as an assistant grocery department manager. They said they believe company communication is poorly handled, so issues remain unaddressed.

But Suttles also said they and others deeply care about working for Rainbow Blossom.

“The community of coworkers is a good one. And many of the policies are favorable, and we don't want to lose these things. We want to enshrine these in a union contract, to protect what we have and gain the support that we need,” Suttles said.

While the union pursues the Gardiner Lane store election, it’s also alleging Rainbow Blossom ownership has illegally tried to monitor workers and prevent them from organizing.

Local 227 filed unfair labor practice charges against the company to the NLRB on August 2. In a press release, UFCW said department managers were “at the heart of the employee organizing effort” and had been threatened with suspension for discussing a union.

The company’s leadership team denied those accusations in a statement to LPM News from Raegan Stremel, the company’s marketing and events manager.

“We have fully complied with the law, and any allegation to the contrary is false. We will continue to follow the process, and to support all of Team Rainbow,” the leaders said, according to the statement.

The leaders also pushed back on department managers’ role with the union.

“Supervisors should be leaving the decision up to the employees they manage,” they said.

Workers at Rainbow Blossom join a growing number of retail employees across Louisville who have formed unions in the past two years.

Suttles said company organizers discussed what to expect from their union effort with employees at Heine Brothers’ Coffee and Sunergos, two local coffee chains whose workers unionized in the past year.

“We learned a little bit about the outcomes and what the bargaining situation looks like, what to expect there, as well as what we could hope to achieve. And all of it's been really eye-opening and heartwarming, honestly,” Suttles said.

Healy and Suttles said at least a couple of Rainbow Blossom workers have past experience working with a union, but that the organizing effort was new for both of them.

Local 227 also represents other grocery store workers in Kentucky and southern Indiana, including at Kroger and Meijer.

This story has been updated with additional information.

Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets gives financial support to Louisville Public Media.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.