Teamsters Local 117 picketed United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) delivery trucks at the US Foods distribution center in Fife on Wednesday, alerting UNFI and its customers of the possibility of an impending labor dispute. The Teamsters also picketed UNFI trucks Thursday morning at the Safeway distribution center in Auburn and at the SuperValu distribution center in Tacoma. Picketing of UNFI trucks will continue to occur at all three locations and may extend to other locations.
When picketing commenced at each location, Local 117 sent notice of the picketing and unfair labor practice dispute with UNFI to the three companies.
“UNFI customers, its investors, and the community at large need to understand that UNFI is not the company it pretends to be. Instead of upholding its stated commitment to sustainable practices and social responsibility, UNFI is grossly mistreating its workers and has demonstrated a blatant disregard of federal labor law,” said Tracey A. Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117.
The National Labor Relations Board is investigating UNFI for 45 violations of federal labor law. The charges include allegations that UNFI engaged in worker surveillance, intimidation and retaliation, that it refused to negotiate over mandatory subjects of bargaining, and that it illegally reassigned bargaining unit work.
Negotiations between UNFI and its 165 represented warehouse workers and drivers began earlier this year. A major sticking point in negotiations has been the company’s refusal to fulfill its legal obligation to bargain over the huge compensation gap between UNFI and other major grocery distributors in the area.
“UNFI is reaping millions in profits, yet refusing to provide a fair share of those profits to the workers that built it from the ground up into the major industry player that it is today,” Thompson said.
UNFI employees perform the same work as other workers in the grocery warehouse industry, yet it compensates its employees at a rate of 25% less than the compensation provided to the major unionized grocery warehouse and distribution workers in the Puget Sound region.
The contract for Union members at UNFI expired on February 29, 2012; an extension agreement expired at the end of August. Since negotiations began, UNFI has erected security fences, hired guards, and brought replacement workers into the warehouse to serve as a secondary workforce.
“Unfortunately, instead of bargaining fairly and treating its workers with respect, UNFI would rather spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars on strike preparations,” Thompson said.