Safeway Tells Signature Takers to Scoot
Professional signature gatherers last week demonstrated at Safeway’s headquarters in Pleasanton, CA to protest what they say are the company’s unconstitutional policies targeting the collection of signatures for ballot measures.
The signature collectors, according to a report in the Oakland Tribune, assert Safeway is violating their right to free speech. A statement from the petitioners read: "Safeway managers have been harassing, photographing and threatening signature gatherers with restraining orders, denying their right to participate in California’s direct democracy."
Rick Fenton, an organizing protester, said the petition signature gatherers are independent contractors.
"Safeway’s rules have gotten to the point that they’re not just restricting time, place and manner anymore," he said. "It’s clearly designed to say, ‘Hey, go find someplace else to circulate.’"
A Safeway spokeswoman Susan Houghton admitted that managers have taken photos to demonstrate to courts how paid signature takers disrupt stores’ entrances and exits, at times constituting a safety hazard.
She told the Trib, "We’re taking a pretty aggressive stance: We’re actually filing injunctions against some of these individuals, because our customers are just fed up with it."
Ms. Houghton further stated that many signature gatherers aren’t complying with Safeway’s "time, place and manner" policy, which requires solicitors of any kind to check with store managers in advance and fill out a form with contacts and other information.
"We want to be community-minded … but what has happened is that it has become an industry. It has become a business. These are professional people paid to gather signatures and, quite frankly, harass our customers," she said.
Retailers appear to have either a no-solicitation policy or one that requires a permission and approval process beforehand. Other retailers have likewise turned to courts to enforce their policies.
Walmart this summer filed 10 lawsuits in California against a church that had set up tables to seek donations in front of its stores, according to an article in the Associated Press. Walmart officials said Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the Salvation Army and other charities are often allowed to collect donations if they sign forms identifying their fund-raising activities. Citing their right to free speech, the church reportedly wouldn’t sign the forms because it claimed Walmart often favors certain groups over others.
In March 2011, Target sued a California advocacy group that has been lobbying for same-sex marriage outside its stores, according to a report by a local ABC News affiliate. Target said in a statement at the time, ‘"In response to feedback from many guests, Target long ago established a solicitation policy at our stores nationwide. We do not permit solicitation or petitioning at our stores regardless of the cause or issue being represented."
Ironically, Amazon has finally found a use for brick & mortar in this manner, according to the LA Times. Petitioners hired by Amazon have been standing outside Ralphs, Trader Joe’s, Target and other retailers since early August to obtain the 500,000-plus signatures necessary for the company to get a measure on next June’s ballot to overturn the state’s new law requiring online retailers to pay sales tax.
- Signature gatherers and Safeway are at war – Oakland Tribune
- Target Sues California Gay Rights Group for Lobbying Outside Stores – ABC News
- Wal-Mart sues to stop church from soliciting outside stores – The Associated Press/First Amendement Center
- Amazon gathering anti-tax-law signatures outside retail stores – The Los Angeles Times
Discussion Questions: Is the ability to collect petitions outside of stores primarily a first amendment or private property issue, in your opinion? What policies should retailers have regarding petition takers outside stores?