James Williams knew he was getting shortchanged. His contract had clear language stating that employees were entitled to overtime pay when they worked in excess of 40 hours during the week.
His company, United Natural Foods, Inc., generally followed that rule. But James detected a glaring exception. “I pay close attention to my paycheck,” he said. “I noticed that the hours worked on a holiday weren't being counted toward my 40 hours for the week.”
That meant that whenever James worked on a holiday and then went on to work more than 40 hours in the week that followed, the company was miscalculating his overtime. James and his-co-workers were getting ripped off.
For James, a driver of 15 and a half years, the error was a big deal. He worked a lot of holidays and tons of overtime. UNFI had been shorting him hundreds of dollars, several times a year.
He told management they needed to fix the problem, but was rebuffed. “We’re not going to pay you the overtime premium on top of the holiday premium,” they argued.
James wasn’t surprised. “They’d pulled that crap on us before,” he said. Undeterred, he took the issue to his Shop Stewards and Marcus Williams, his Business Rep, and the Vice President of Teamsters 117.
During the investigation, Marcus discovered that UNFI had been underpaying its employees for over a year and a half. He filed a grievance and, when it became clear that the company was unwilling to recognize its error, requested that the case be expedited to arbitration.
In May 2016, Marcus and Spencer Thal, our General Counsel, made the Union’s case before the arbitrator.
Their argument was simple: Hours worked, whether they occur on a holiday or not, should count toward the total number of hours worked during the week. Given the language in the UNFI contract, members must be paid both time and a half for any holiday worked and for any time in excess of 40 hours.
The arbitrator agreed. His award amounted to a whopping $50,000 in back pay for 124 employees. Members at UNFI took home anywhere from between $3.50 to over $1,800.
On hearing the news of the win, James and his co-workers were ecstatic. “Members are excited to finally be paid the money they are owed. The union went to bat for us and got our money back. It feels great,” he said.