As some Market of Choice employees protest their inability to wear Black Lives Matter face masks, other acts of discrimination are coming to light. Now, employees are fighting to feel comfortable in the workplace.
Sydney Rivera has been a Market of Choice kitchen clerk for roughly a year. As an employee of color, she said she has faced racism from coworkers and customers.
“This was my first customer service job in a while, so I never really had to notice how people treated me,” said Rivera. “So to notice how someone didn’t want me to help them or like someone wouldn't look at me, or if I acknowledge them they wouldn't speak back to me. These things build up.”
But she said it has been difficult getting store managers to address the problems and find long-term solutions. Now, Rivera just wants to have a conversation with management so she can feel respected and heard.
“There's been multiple complaints,” said Rivera. “I've told my managers I'm not comfortable. I've had them talk to certain customers when I didn't feel safe.”
Although she has good working relationships with most of the higher-ups, she said her response from her main store manager has been particularly frustrating.
When discussing issues related to the Black Lives Matter movement, all employees individually spoke with supervisors. During this time, Rivera shared her experience as an employee of color. But Rivera feels her comments were almost immediately disregarded.
“For some reason, when one of my direct coworkers in my department came up there and voiced that there were complaints, the head manager mentioned that there were no complaints,” said Rivera. “He said there were none.”
Rivera is asking to have a conversation with managers so she and other employees of color can feel comfortable in their work environment.
“I should feel like other white people do—comfortable, fine—I can talk about whatever I want,” said Rivera. “But no, I can't do that. I can't do certain things that other people do. No one's going to care about what I say. I don't feel like my opinion matters.”
Last Wednesday, she asked to have another conversation with human resources that included a female or manager of color. She is still waiting to have that conversation.
“I want this company to be aware of the white privilege they have, and what is going on there, and how these employees are also on the same level of them with this white privilege,” said Rivera. “Because for me, I feel like the one complaint from the one Brown person in a certain department should matter. I feel like that should really be the strongest because I'm the only one there with actually dark skin.”
Rivera is speaking out after multiple Market of Choice employees across the state have walked out of stores in response to not being able to wear Black Lives Matter face masks. Starting at the Eugene Delta Oaks location, pizza cook Kendall Hocking was one of the first employees to walk out on June 22.
Since then, more than 20 employees across the state have walked out of their stores in solidarity.
“We understand if we were wearing masks that say, ‘all cops are bad’ or ‘defend the police’ or something, that's totally understandable,” said Hocking. “And they don't want to display that. But they're unwilling to work with employees to come up with a company approved design for a pin, or a mask, or even a sign that we can display in stores to show solidarity with the movement.”
She said managers at different stores have given conflicting responses, saying that employees are not allowed people to wear BLM masks because it is a slogan, while others have said it does not provide a relaxing environment.
Hocking does not plan to return to work until employees are allowed to wear BLM face masks, and they implement policies that align with the statement they released in support of the BLM movement. As far as she knows, she is still employed as of Friday.
“I have called into every one of my shifts and I've asked for written statements as to why I am not allowed to return to work wearing the mask, and they've been unable to provide it,” said Hocking. “I've also asked for an update on the mask policy and they said they don't have one because the pandemic is relatively new.”
She said the decision to walkout and boycott work is not just about being able to wear BLM masks. She said it is to support and provide a safe space for community members of color—such as Rivera—who have endured discrimination while shopping at local grocery stores.
Hocking also said Market of Choice has been removing some of their social media posts after telling customers to go to those platforms to express their complaints. She also said customers are being told to contact corporate management when they call the local stores, and vice versa.
“They're not only giving employees the run around, but they're giving the community the run around as well,” said Hocking.
Hocking and others are now demanding the company listen to employee and community voices, specifically people of color. She was told the company is working to develop their equality and diversity team, but has not heard of any progress.