Our union team gathers on the first day of contract negotiations with the SuperValu.
Teamsters at Supervalu were having none of it. The company had brought in out-of-town temps to operate forklifts at its distribution center in Tacoma. The temps were being prepped to do Teamster work in a Teamster warehouse. It was a classic case of skimming and, if allowed, would set a dangerous precedent just as our group was heading into contract negotiations.
The shop steward on shift, Anthony McKinney, drew a firm line with management. "I talked to the GM, Steve LaBard, and expressed how I felt about having temps in our facility," he said. LaBard promised to send them home.
But the next day the temps were back again. At the start of his shift, McKinney was pulled into the office by the West Regional VP, who told him the company's plans had changed: The temps would no longer be used to operate forklifts; they would train our members on the forklifts instead.
Forklift training, as McKinney knew, is also Local 117 work. The skimming violation would still be in play as long as the temps remained in the warehouse. Clearly, the company had not gotten the message.
That's when McKinney and another shop steward, Greg Wiest, made the call. If the temps stayed, all 80 Teamsters on swing shift were going to walk. The stewards would give the company until 3:25pm to get the temps off of facility property.
Word spread quickly through the warehouse. The crew gathered outside the office, while McKinney, Wiest, and other rank-and-file leaders went in to deliver the message to management. "We told them how we were being disrespected, how we weren't being listened to, and that we were going to walk," Wiest said.
"I don't think they expected the solidarity that our group showed."
The mangers were flummoxed, the deadline passed, and just like that the group shut down one of the largest grocery distribution centers in the Pacific Northwest.
With their entire workforce on the way out, the company had no choice but to capitulate. They agreed to get the temps off the floor. But the stewards weren't taking any chances. "We wanted to see them walk off the property before going back to work," Wiest said. So management rounded up the temps and walked them out.
After the action, there were a lot of high fives and handshaking. Word spread to graveyard and day shift. The story of the workers' resolve will likely ripple across the grocery industry. It is especially remarkable given that they had just finished navigating the impact of a merger with Unified Grocers that added dozens of Local 117 members to the warehouse a few months ago.
For McKinney and Wiest, the group's unity sends a powerful message to the company that Teamsters will fight to maintain standards in the grocery industry as we head into contract negotiations this month. The company had tried to capitalize on the perceived divisions, but had underestimated us. "I don't think they expected the solidarity that our group showed," McKinney said.
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