March 4, 2014
Last month, during UFCW Local 555’s Oregon Lobby Day, shop steward Sarah DeMerritt testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of legislation that would ease penalties for those who unknowingly or inadvertently sell alcohol to a minor for the first time.
In June of 2013, while working as a checker at Safeway in Lake Oswego, Oregon, she sold a six-pack of beer to someone she believed was of legal drinking age. But instead the customer was part of an Oregon Liquor Control Commission sting. A police officer interviewed and cited DeMerritt in her check stand as customers looked on.
“It was very humiliating,” she said. Despite having more than 12 years on the job and no previous offenses, DeMerritt was fired and charged with a Class A Misdemeanor. “Why would I risk my health benefits, my job, my seniority, my life?” she told the committee. “I thought the customer looked old enough to purchase alcohol and was a familiar neighbor that I had carded and sold to in the past.”
DeMerritt stressed that she takes her responsibility to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors very seriously and had passed all previous stings. Senate Bill 1546 would make penalties for first time offenders more proportional.
The Oregon House passed this legislation, joining the Senate in giving it overwhelming support. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said he will sign it into law.
“I do not want other employees to have this experience,” DeMerritt said. “I do not want them to have to fight so hard.” By having the courage to share her story, DeMerritt is helping make the system fairer for all grocery workers in Oregon.