Monty Johnson has worked his forklift for twenty-four years at the SUPERVALU warehouse, later purchased by UNFI.
In the dim interior of the UNFI warehouse in Tacoma, you have to be quick on your feet. With short beeps, forklifts and pellet jacks zooming by, there is no time to waste. Teamsters who work here know their jobs well and do them efficiently.
Perhaps no one is better at it than Monty Johnson. Monty has never missed a day of work in all combined twenty-four years of working at the SUPERVALU warehouse which was recently purchased by the food giant UNFI. Not a sick day and rarely any vacation days, even when it meant losing the accumulated hours, the warehouse is his bread and air.
When the company went through layoffs and he had to submit for his severance, he did so with a heavy heart. Soon they remembered his tireless work ethic and asked him to come back. He did so in a heartbeat. The warehouse was his home – the place he knew inside and out. He came back to his old forklift, and it was like he never left. Dashing between rows of shelves stacked up to the ceiling, Monty doesn’t need a chart to decipher the numbers indicating which products go on which shelves. He knows them by heart. Hundreds upon hundreds of slots, this maze to an external observer is a familiar tune to him.
Teamsters at the warehouse waste no time. They are quick, efficient and ready to flash a smile.
One day the company president got a hold of him and asked: “Are you the guy who never missed a day in this place? Why did you do that?” What he didn’t understand was that when Monty came to Washington State in the 90s looking for a stable job to care for his young family, this union job offered back then by SUPERVALU gave him a jump-start to a secure life, and for that Monty is eternally grateful. You can’t tell by his energetic smile, but his kids are all grown up now, and he has welcomed grandchildren to his family.
When Monty shows up to work every single day and pours his heart out, he doesn’t do it to compound profits for shareholders who wouldn’t step into his warehouse for an hour. The product of his daily work is getting food from the warehouse to the supermarket shelves on time so that thousands of people in Pierce County can buy food that was kept cool, fresh, and undamaged.
For Monty, it is the Teamster sisters and brothers who work at warehouse that make the place like home.
It wasn’t Monty’s or any of his co-workers’ decision to sell the warehouse to UNFI, relocate it to Centralia, or try to fight the union workers and squeeze their livelihood in an attempt to eke out a slightly fatter margin of profit. Neither will they succumb to company pressure after dedicating a lifetime to this work.
Monty sees his workplace pulled apart to be relocated and shakes his head. “The new company is doing things to accommodate themselves and are not respecting the workers who do the daily grinding work of making the company successful. They don’t understand that if they take care of us, we take care of them.”
Teamsters Mari Jane Friel (l) and Anthony McKinney (r) take their talents out to the broader membership.
Mari Jane Friel and Anthony McKinney are a couple of stand-out union activists. Both have excelled at building a strong union in their respective workplaces.
Mari Jane is a roads utility worker at King County. She ramped up her union involvement when the Janus court case loomed with its threat of open shop. Anthony comes out of the grocery industry, where he and a fellow shop steward orchestrated a powerful workplace action to stop their employer from skimming their work.
Both Anthony and Mari Jane recently had a chance to come on board at Local 117 as lost-timers. Our union negotiated a leave of absence with their employers and picked up their wages and benefits while they were away from their jobs.Read more
Teamsters at UNFI/Supervalu are united and won't be pushed around by an employer who is intent on maximizing profits at their expense.
Imagine coming home from work, you sit your family down, and have tell them your job is being relocated hundreds of miles away. Your employer is offering no security with regard to your union contract, your wages, seniority, and benefits.
This is the reality for our members employed at the UNFI/Supervalu grocery distribution centers in Auburn and Tacoma.
After acquiring Supervalu last year, UNFI abruptly announced that they would be moving the work from both facilities to Chehalis and Ridgefield.
The proposed move raises critical questions for our members and their families. Will they remain Teamsters? Will the terms and conditions of their current contract apply at the new locations? Will they retain their seniority rights? What will their severance package look like if they are unable to make the move?
"Teamsters at UNFI/Supervalu won't be bullied into forfeiting their rights."
Hundreds of members from the group and their families met at our Union Hall in Tukwila on March 16 to discuss these questions and set priorities. The group met again for another update on Saturday, March 30.
"This is everyone's future," said Annette Pitchford, a 33-year Teamster Shop Steward who works inventory control at the UNFI/Supervalu facility in Tacoma. "It is essential that we stay together and you can really feel that in the warehouse right now."
Our union's principal officer John Scearcy was joined by previous Local 117 Secretary-Treasurers Tracey Thompson and John Williams to address the group.
"We are working to ensure that our members' rights are protected under their contract and under the law," Secretary-Treasurer Scearcy said. "Teamsters at UNFI/Supervalu won't be bullied into forfeiting their rights. They are united and prepared to fight to protect their livelihoods."
Our union team gathers on the first day of contract negotiations with SuperValu.
Over the weekend, Teamsters who work in SuperValu’s grocery warehouse in Tacoma voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new three-year contract. The contract provides annual wage increases, excellent health and welfare coverage, and retirement security for over 200 members of Local 117 and their families.
“One of the highlights for me was ensuring full maintenance of our medical benefits,” said Anthony McKinney, a shop steward who served on our union’s negotiations committee. “A lot of my co-workers are on their way to having children. They’ll see the incredible benefit of keeping this medical coverage in our contract.”
"They’ll see the incredible benefit of keeping this medical coverage..."
The agreement maintains industry standards and aligns with other Teamster grocery contracts, including those at Safeway and Fred Meyer. This is a major accomplishment given the dramatic changes and consolidation in the industry.
A little over a year ago, SuperValu purchased Unified Grocers for $390 million. Teamsters who had worked in Unified’s Seattle warehouse moved down to the SuperValu facility in Tacoma.Read more
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.
Members of the SuperValu union bargaining committee.
Teamsters in the grocery warehouse industry continue to win strong contracts.
This Saturday, our members who work at SuperValu voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new one-year agreement. The contract proposal was fully recommended by our union bargaining committee.
The new contract contains wage and pension increases, health and welfare protections, and for the first time Local 117 members employed at the company will have coverage for domestic partners under their health plan.
The economic benefits and other improvements helped offset the short term of the agreement. “Our company’s going through transition,” said Greg Wiest, a 28-year Teamster and member of the bargaining committee. “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now. But this was a good deal given that it was a one-year deal.”Read more