By Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2020

SEATTLE (AP) - In another struggle over protest symbols in the workplace, employees at Seattle-area QFC and Fred Meyer stores are saying a ban on “Black Lives Matter” buttons violates federal labor law and their union contract.

Motoko Kusanagi, who works at the QFC grocer in Seattle’s University Village, told The Seattle Times the store’s director has been “pulling people aside individually and asking them to take the pin off.”

On Tuesday, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 filed an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board against QFC and Fred Meyer, both owned by Seattle-based supermarket giant Kroger.

The union, which represents around 13,000 workers in Puget Sound-area Fred Meyer and QFC stores, distributed the buttons in August.

Officials at the Westwood Village and University Village stores declined to comment on the buttons or store policy. Tiffany Sanders, a QFC spokesperson in Bellevue, also declined to comment on the complaint or the specifics of the union’s grievance.

But Sanders said QFC offered wristbands as an alternative for employees who “have expressed a desire to stand together with the Black community and show their support through their clothing, facial coverings and accessories.” One wristband bears the words, “Standing Together,” Sanders said.

Union officials said when unfair labor charges are filed, the National Labor Relations Board typically gathers evidence and determines whether violations have occurred in a process that takes one to two months.

In June, Seattle-based Starbucks came under heavy criticism after banning BLM symbols at work and then offering its own, tamer employee T-shirt.

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