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“I don’t know, but I’ve been told,” chanted Maureen Lundy outside the Klamath Falls Fred Meyer Wednesday morning, “women are worth their weight in gold.” Lundy is associated with the Klamath-Lake Uniserv Council and a teacher at Mills Elementary School.

Lundy’s chant reflected the views of a group of worker advocates and union members who organized a rally outside Fred Meyer on Washburn Way, citing a gender wage gap at stores across the region.

“It’s 2019, doesn’t it feel like 1919?” Lundy said. “We have to stick together, because this is not acceptable for anybody.”

Misha Hernandez, who works with Oregon’s chapter of the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), was an organizer of this rally. She said rallies have taken place at Fred Meyer stores around the state.

“I think we’re starting to piss them off,” Hernandez said.

Jesse Westling, the general manager of Klamath Falls’ Fred Meyer, said that he could not comment on the rally or the allegations.

Called to fight

Fred Meyer employees, along with many other grocery store workers, are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. UFCW Local 555, the branch that represents Oregon and Southern Washington, has called on Fred Meyer and local worker advocates to fight against the alleged wage gap.

Jeffery Temple, director of corporate affairs at Fred Meyer, said the allegations of women being paid less than men misrepresent their associates.

“We encourage all applicants to apply for jobs that interest them,” he said. “It’s a high turnover industry, we want people to have jobs that they want in hopes that they love their job and want to stay in the company. It makes no sense to funnel people based on gender.”

Kelley McAllister, communications director at UCFW Local 555, said a study UCFW Local 555 released about Fred Meyer’s wage gap was done by examining data Fred Meyer gave to the union.

“Everything we do as a union we have to have proof for,” she said. “We never act on suspicion, we only act on documented evidence.”

Legacy problem

She said the data from Fred Meyer shows the company has two tiers of positions that each receive a different wage level after a standardized apprenticeship. According to UCFW’s study, Schedule A jobs, which are more likely to be filled by men, earn higher wages than Schedule B jobs, which are predominantly filled by women.

McAllister said that in the grocery contracts, the two tiers have existed for a very long time and are a legacy problem from past traditions. The Schedule A positions include grocery clerk, cold wall and grocery freight. The Schedule B positions include the deli and the bakery.

McAllister clarified that the gender distribution doesn’t necessarily apply to everything in every category, but that the Schedule A tier, when looking at all of the positions together, is composed of 67% men and 33% women. She said that this two-tiered system is responsible for upholding an outdated wage gap.

“In scenarios where the mechanism for discrimination doesn’t exist, then discrimination doesn’t exist,” she said.

Wage favor

McAllister said UCFW did a variety of calculations to determine the wage gap between Schedule A and Schedule B positions. She said that calculating the average difference resulted in a $3.53 per hour pay gap in Schedule A’s favor.

“Men were more likely to be making those higher wages,” she said.

McAllister said this is because of intrinsic bias that has existed for a long time, and that if they wanted to negotiate in a substantial way, Fred Meyer could encourage other grocery outlets in the same, more equitable direction.

“We are not accusing Fred Meyer of discrimination. We are letting them know we found a pattern based on legacy long-term bias,” McAllister said.

Unionized departments

The Fred Meyer in Klamath Falls is not unionized in its entirety. UCFW said that they only represent the meat department, and Temple said that the bakery is also represented by another union.

“When a department isn’t unionized, the people who worked there haven’t seen the value in unionizing,” McAllister said. She said people might start to see this value with more awareness on the topic.

McAllister wanted to confirm that Wednesday’s rally in Klamath Falls was not hosted by UCFW, but that she is grateful for the support from other unions and supporters throughout the state.

Supporters at the union rally made it clear that they are advocates for all workers.

“People need to be paid a wage they can live on,” said Christina Pasillas, who is on the board for Sustainable Klamath. “Everybody should at least be able to have enough money to pay their rent and utilities and feed their children.”