Five days a week, rain or shine, for almost 16 months, union picketers staked out the sidewalk in front of downtown Tacomas first grocery store in decades, encouraging people to take their business elsewhere.
The picket appears to be over, despite a vow by UFCW Local 367 to continue it indefinitely. The handful of people representing the union havent been seen in the new year.
Local 367 president Denise Jagielo, when asked by phone Friday whether the picket was over or merely on a break, said: The local union has done what its going to do in downtown Tacoma at this point. We believe our efforts were successful in what we were trying to accomplish.
As a reporter started to ask a second question, Jagielo hung up.
How the union is measuring success is unclear. The store Tacoma City Grocer at 1250 Pacific Ave. is open. The owner says sales continue to improve. Its workers arent represented by the union and say theyre happy without it.
Last fall, Jagielo told The News Tribune the goal of the picket was to educate the public about the necessity of supporting unionized stores to maintain community standards.
Jagielo says non-union workers are paid less. Store owner Tyler Myers has said he pays better than union scale and has a better benefit package. Neither party would provide their wage schedules for an independent review.
On Friday, Myers said the claim about wages was a red herring.
I think they were trying to make a statement, not just to me but to anybody in Tacoma, Myers said. Unfortunately, it works a little bit. There (could be) people who come to Tacoma and turn around and say, Im not coming here. Its a real negative work environment for someone who is trying to invest.
Myers and the local owners of Pacific Plaza announced an agreement to open the IGA-branded store in January 2011. The picketers arrived Sept. 7, opening day.
Local 367 and Myers have a history. In 2003, employees of Myers store in Ocean Shores voted to unionize through Local 367, which represents about 7,000 workers in six counties, including most grocery workers in Pierce County.
The organizing effort was unsuccessful, though each side offered a different explanation as to why. Records from the National Labor Relations Board have been destroyed.
The local didnt walk away until after a nine-month strike, which, until its campaign at Tacoma City Grocer, was the longest in its history.
Last fall, as the Tacoma picket approached the 12-month mark, union leaders said they were bothered that a non-union business opened in a building partially owned by the City of Tacoma. They told City Council members they believed the union should have been given more notice of the Myers deal before it was made public.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland said that the city already operates transparently.
We publish things in agendas and are very transparent, she said. I cant have staff spending time telling developers things before the public. And I dont want the business community, regionally or nationally, to feel its not fair to do business here.
Strickland said she hasnt spoken to union leaders since before the store opened, though some in the community suggested she try to broker a deal to end the picket last fall.
I cant control other peoples behavior, she said. But as a city we can be transparent about whats happening and give the public ample opportunity to weigh in.
It looks like this was more of a grudge with a business owner than it is about concern for people who work at the store, Strickland said.
Myers said the experience has soured him on further investment in the city. He said Tacomas new economic development director recently asked whether hed consider opening more stores in parts of the city that need a grocer.
I said, Were looking to grow, but it would take a lot for me to want to come back and do more business in Tacoma, Myers said. Its hard to get excited about investing in the community when you have this kind of negative stuff.
Information from News Tribune archives was used in this report.