Safeway Tells Signature Takers to Scoot

Discussion
Aug 22, 2011
Tom Ryan

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.

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?

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17 Comments on "Safeway Tells Signature Takers to Scoot"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

While a potential public relations nightmare, if the store owns the property in front, it’s a private property issue. Walmart, for example, owns most of its parking lots. They have a right to permit or prohibit as they choose.

In general, I think they should prohibit petition takers of any sort – avoid politics and religion, keep it to community service organizations raising funds (girl scouts, boy scouts, etc.).

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Oh, come on. Definitely a private property issue. And Safeway, Target and Walmart are all doing the right thing. This never would have happened in the first place if signature gatherers had just been there making their petitions available, with a sign, instead of harassing shoppers.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Interesting. I’ve been thrown out of stores for doing a lot less than that. I think it’s a private property issue. Stores should have a right to allow or disallow anyone on their property for any reason, at any time.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This is, in my opinion, definitely a private property issue. As a customer I do not like any solicitation when I am trying to shop but the decision, particularly on charities, should be left to the retailer. As far as any political solicitation, I think this definitely intrudes on the consumers and in most cases the people on the other side of the issue may relate the experience to the retailer and form a negative opinion that no retailer wants.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 8 months ago

Collecting petitions on a store’s property is a private property matter. A store’s front entrance exists primarily to allow the public to enter freely and without any hustling by others with vested interests not related to grocery shopping.

Three questions: 1) How would the current petitioners react if Safeway hired folks to concurrently solicit signatures that would prohibit all non-sanctioned solicitations of petitions at the entrance to their stores and that resulted in the groups clashing?

2) How would Safeway’s existing customers react if this situation occurred at a Safeway entrance? And …

3) Who would be in the right legally: the current petitioners, the Safeway petitioners or the arriving customers. Is this a great country for lawyers or what?

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Not being a lawyer, I am not going to try and answer a legal question. This maybe something the court will need to decide. But as a past business owner, I would assume I have the right to allow who I want on my property as long as I do not discriminate. I would want to protect those rights and the rights of my customers to be able to shop at my store without being harassed. If people want to get petitions signed there are lots of public places they can stand. Or maybe not, because the government will not allow them to stand on street corners. Maybe they should sue the government.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This is a private property issue.

The retailer has paid for ownership/leasehold space, and they have the right and responsibility to maintain safety of the environment. Their customers should not feel harassed in any manner.

Charitable organizations who expect to make use of the visibility that a retailer has to offer, should understand that they should have to:
1. Meet with the Store Manager to request the opportunity to solicit in front of the store
2. Complete some simple paperwork that states their purpose, time they will be there, promise to remain in a confined area, hold the Retailer harmless, etc.

Gathering signatures such as Amazon’s practice in front of a retailer is out of line. If Amazon chooses to hire signature takers, they should be directing them to locations away from private property locations, like retailers.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

The petitioners can cry “First Amendment” all they want. But this is a private property issue. Safeway, Target and Walmart seem to be within their rights to prohibit professional solicitors from bothering their customers. It is needless issues such as this that continue to clog an already filled court system.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 8 months ago

I believe that Safeway has the right to manage their property in a manner that best supports their ability to profitably operate a business. If the presence of these “Professional” signature takers inhibits Safeway’s ability to conduct business then they should have the ability to prohibit this activity. No one has a right to do anything on private property but the individual who has legal rights to use the property. Any use of that property would be at the pleasure of the holder of the property rights.

Of course the 9th circuit could rule that Safeway has no rights and that they must build a shelter to air condition and protect the signature takers from the elements while they disrupt Safeway’s business….

Dennis Serbu
Guest
Dennis Serbu
9 years 8 months ago

The gathering of signatures is a fundamental part of California’s initiative process. This is a wonderful way of citizens being able to make their collective voices heard when the State Legislature ignores them. Unfortunately the process has been hijacked by corporations and special interests using paid signature collectors. We need to clean it up.

On private property, the owners should have the right to decide what is in the community interest and what is not. Safeway may have it right this time.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

People who answer the poll with “not sure/no opinion” should send a comment explaining their ambiguity, so the rest of us can fire back outraged comments at them.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This is a private property issue – shoppers come to a retailer expecting basic accommodations: safety, privacy, courtesy and business transactions. They are not attending a political rally. Keep this activity out of the shopping arena. Public property is where this belongs. That means libraries, town halls, post offices, parks, and street corners.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This appears to have generated a rare example of unanimity among RW respondents – and I won’t risk Warren’s wrath by upsetting the apple cart! – which given the specifics (private owner, single store) isn’t too surprising; the more complex case is with malls and other such places which, IIRC, courts have (sometimes) found to be a “semi-public” forum…but I guess we can leave that for another day.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

All retailers should have the same policy as Target: No solicitation allowed on store property. This is private property that is exclusively set up for customers of Target, and gaining entrance to the store is both an allowance granted by the retailer and a privilege. It is not a right. If people wish to collect signatures, they can go outside of a safe area from the property, on public property (usually outside of the parking lot) and “canvas” any people who will speak to them there. This is legally clear and our laws support Target and other retailers who take a no solicitation stance on their private property.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Paid protesting, paid mob gathering and paid demonstrations are the new standard to exploit causes of any kind, from a simple petition, to union activities, to voter initiatives.

Safeway has the right position as do other retailers that exert their private property rights to ensure their customers have a shopping experience free from harassment, intimidation or agitation.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 8 months ago
This is not a property rights issue. GMROI and I, both California residents, have recently heard a radio campaign that discourages shoppers from signing petitions because it could result in identity theft. You can hear the commercial and some discussion about it here… But this is apparently a much deeper and more slimy issue than simple aversion to harassment in front of supermarkets or even identity theft. Instead, it’s about public union pension reform, a topic resonating around the country. Here’s the deal. The California Initiative Process makes it possible to put a measure on a statewide ballot if you have enough signatures. The San Diego Pension Reform Committee began to collect signatures statewide to support a measure eliminating defined pension benefits for new public employees, and municipal governments all over the state began to support it. They needed signatures for the ballot initiative process. Who would oppose this? The public unions, of course. And that’s why the labor-backed group (a building and trades union according to the Sacramento Bee), Californians Against Identity Theft, began… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
9 years 8 months ago

Retailers want easy entry and exit to and from their stores. Anything that gets in the way of that should be prohibited.

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