Local 117 members unlawfully laid off by UNFI bring their fight for justice to Amazon/Whole Foods
On Thursday, in Austin, Texas, a delegation of Oxfam, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and Teamsters Union representatives joined forces, demanding Whole Foods take real steps to clean up abusive labor practices in its food supply chain.
Whole Foods is one of the lowest-scoring supermarket chains on Oxfam’s human rights scorecard, even worse than Walmart.
On the same day, in Seattle, laid-off grocery workers, Teamsters Local 117 representatives and consumer allies visited Amazon headquarters to demand that Amazon-owned Whole Foods weigh in on its largest supplier, UNFI to stop labor abuses there.
Teamster officials in Austin, participating in the event with Oxfam and FLOC, tried to deliver a letter to John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods.
Seattle protestors sought to meet with Stephenie Landry, VP of Grocery Delivery for Amazon and deliver the same letter, demanding justice. Click to read the letter, and see photos and video from Seattle.
“Hundreds of families are hurting today, because Whole Foods' partner UNFI is not honoring contract terms that we negotiated and they agreed to, that's unacceptable and we won't stand for it," said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local Union No. 117. “Amazon has the ability and the responsibility to demand Whole Foods and UNFI stop abusing workers and communities across its entire supply chain, and honor their commitments to us all.”
"We demand Whole Foods and UNFI stop abusing workers and communities across its supply chain."
Right before the holidays, UNFI illegally laid off over 200 workers from its Tacoma, Wash., distribution center. UNFI is refusing to honor an arbitrator’s award that upholds the workers’ contract and protects their wages and benefits.
“The loss of money, medical benefits and retirement that we have become accustomed to has really made life difficult. I have had my garbage service canceled due to inability to pay. My phone has been shut off for a couple of weeks. How am I supposed to find employment without a phone? What if there was a problem with my daughter at school? I have also fallen a month behind in rent,” said Jason Black, one of the laid off Tacoma, food distribution workers. “Other workers have been hit with evictions, had utilities shut off and scrounged for change to make sure their families are fed. Food, shelter, clothing and good health for our families are the main priorities now and covering these expenses is hard and is only going to get harder because of UNFI’s greed.”
Teamsters urged Amazon’s Whole Foods grocery executives Mackey and Landry to call on UNFI CEO Steven Spinner to comply with the arbitrator’s decision and stop breaking the law – as a first step toward demonstrating their combined company’s commitment to a truly sustainable food supply.
Whole Foods Market has a strategic supply chain agreement with UNFI, which runs more than 50 grocery warehouses, and is an essential partner to Amazon’s premier grocery channels: Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh.
The protestors also called on Amazon’s Whole Foods to ensure that all its suppliers respect workers’ rights and safety.
Teamsters represent over 4,000 members at UNFI across much of the U.S. UNFI has recently escalated its attacks on its local labor unions, leading to extensive unrest across its grocery distribution network, including a two-week strike in the Midwest in late December 2019.
This page is set up to provide updates to Teamsters 117 members who worked at UNFI's warehouse in Tacoma and were unlawfully laid off by the company. Our Union is defending an Arbitration Award that UNFI is challenging in federal court.
Our goal is to fight the Company in court and uphold the Arbitrator's Award that allowed members to transfer to Centralia with the same wages and benefits that they had in Tacoma. When there are developments in the case or other news that impacts Teamster families, we will post it here.
To receive updates via text message, text "Teamsters FUNFI" to 313131. Please understand that the litigation process is a lengthy one and there may be several weeks between updates. If you have questions, please post them in the comments below understanding that our legal team is busy and will answer them when their schedule allows.
UNFI NEWS TICKER
April 2, 2020
In an effort to keep you all updated on the processing of the litigation, we contacted the court for a status update today. The only new information is that the motion for stay that was filed on 1/24/2020 is in Judge Jones' queue. The court was not able to provide a time frame for a decision. As we have shared before, this is a slow legal process that is presumably further delayed by the staffing and priority case load in relation to the COVID-19 crisis. Although this update does not include any major development, we have been asked by the membership and we have committed to provide regular updates no matter how big or small.
March 13, 2020
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the meeting at our Union Hall in Tukwila on March 21 has been cancelled until further notice. Please stay healthy and safe!
March 5, 2020
As you know, UNFI filed actions in both Federal Court and at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the Union to challenge Arbitrator’s Duffy’s award. In the Federal Court action, UNFI filed a motion to stay (put on hold) those proceedings until the NLRB ruled on their charges. We suspect that the Company's motives for filing the motion to stay are to continue to block your rights under the Award and to slow down the process as much as possible. The judge has not yet ruled on that motion. As soon as we hear from the judge, we will let you know.
At the regional NLRB office (region 19), our Union’s outside legal team filed a supplemental position statement a few weeks ago. Our statement provides a good overview of our main arguments in the case and request that the Board dismiss UNFI's charges. To inform yourself, please take some time to review this document. Since then, the regional office has been unable to make a determination about UNFI’s charges (likely for political reasons) and has submitted the charges to the NLRB General Counsel (a Trump appointee) for “advice”. We suspect the General Counsel's "advice" will be to push these charges to hearing. We are preparing for this outcome. Stay tuned for more information.
February 10, 2020
UNFI has filed a motion to stay proceedings in federal court. They are asking the Judge to stay (which means stop processing) the proceedings in federal court until the NLRB proceedings are concluded. We are filing our objection to that motion today, and the hearing on the motion is Friday.
January 13, 2020
As many of you know, our Union filed and won and Arbitration Award related to the transfer of work to Centralia. Unfortunately, UNFI has refused honor the Arbitration decision and has instead filed appeals with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and in Federal Court. The following updates are related to the litigation over UNFI’s appeal:
Although litigation is slow-moving, we are committed to keeping you updated with posts and text alerts as we progress through this process. To receive a text that an update has been posted, please text “Teamsters FUNFI” to 313131. If you have questions, please post them in the comments below understanding that our legal team is busy and will answer them when their schedule allows.
January 3, 2020
As many of you know, our Union filed numerous Unfair Labor Practice charges (ULP’s) with the National Labor Relations Board over the last year alleging that UNFI engaged in interference, disparaging communications, surveillance, unilateral changes and more. Although these charges are unrelated to the Arbitration and the ongoing litigation over the award (appeal), we feel it is important to keep you updated on the progress:
As mentioned above, UNFI is mandated to mail you a letter setting forth UNFI’s legal obligations to its employees under the National Labor Relations Act. We expect that letter to be mailed out within the next week or two. This letter will not require any further action from you. Although this may seem insignificant, it marks another Teamster win against this employer that couldn’t be possible without the involvement and testimony of many of you.
We have asked our legal team to draft an update related to the litigation over the Arbitration award and the appeal process. We intend on providing that update soon.
Teamsters 117 establishes the UNFI Hardship Fund designed to assist members from UNFI's Tacoma facility who are experiencing extreme financial hardship as a result of being unlawfully laid off by UNFI. If you are a UNFI member who worked at the Tacoma facility and you are facing financial hardship, please apply for assistance here.
October 7, 2019
Arbitrator Joseph Duffy rules unequivocally for the Union stating that members of Teamsters 117 shall be allowed to transfer to Centralia under the same terms and conditions that they have in Tacoma. View the Arbitration Award here.
Teamsters in Tacoma learning that UNFI has failed to make timely payments on their health and welfare and pension.
Over the last several months, our Union has been in an intense labor battle with United Natural Foods, Inc (UNFI), a ruthless employer that has shown little regard for our members' livelihoods or their contractual rights.
Right before the holidays, the company unlawfully laid off over 200 Local 117 members from its Tacoma distribution center and is refusing to honor an arbitrator's award that upholds their contract and protects their wages and benefits.
Many of our members are now facing eviction or are struggling to pay the bills or put food on the table for their families.
To assist members from UNFI's Tacoma facility who are facing extreme financial hardship, our Union has established the UNFI Hardship Fund.
Over the last month, we have received generous donations from Local Unions and Joint Councils across the Teamsters Union as well as donations from other labor organizations and individuals. We are extremely grateful to you for your support.
UNFI HARDSHIP FUND - DONATIONS
If you would like to donate to support Local 117 members in need, you can contribute by sending your donation to:
Teamsters Local 117
c/o UNFI Hardship Fund
14675 Interuruban Ave. S. Ste 307
Tukwila, WA 98168
Thank you for your support!
UNFI/SuperValu negotiations committee is committed to protecting our members rights under their contract and under the Arbitrator's award.
UNFI arrived without their lead negotiator and unprepared to bargain with Teamsters Local 117 and Local 313 when they met with the Union on Thursday and Friday in Tukwila to discuss severance packages for Teamsters who are facing layoffs by the Company. As a result, the two-day negotiations session resulted in little progress.
In the last few weeks, more than 70 UNFI employees working at the Tacoma warehouse have been laid off with the remaining employees to be laid off over the next 30 days.
“UNFI is not interested in negotiating a quality severance package for the majority of our members and their families whose lives have been severely disrupted by the Company’s decision to relocate operations from Tacoma to Centralia,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “We came ready to negotiate and we formally proposed to accept an offer the Company had made on October 1 without a single change – not even a comma – but the Company rejected their own proposal.”
The Union is consider filing additional charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over unlawful regressive bargaining tactics.
"UNFI is not interested in negotiating a reasonable severance package for the majority of our members."
UNFI is continuing to refuse to honor a neutral arbitrator’s decision to allow employees at the Company’s Tacoma warehouse to transfer to its Centralia facility with the same wages and terms and conditions that the Tacoma employees have been working under.
“Arbitrator Joseph Duffy ruled unequivocally for the Union in awarding full transfer rights to our members with the wages, benefits, and other protections,” Scearcy said. “His decision is legally sound and upholds contract language that the Company agreed to in negotiations. Not only did UNFI agree to the contract language enforced by Arbitrator Duffy, but it also agreed that arbitration decisions would be final and binding. We are confident that the courts will side with the Arbitrator and rule to make whole our members for any losses they may have incurred while they were unlawfully laid off.”
UNFI has a history of labor unrest with the Teamsters. In December 2012, members of Teamsters Local 117 employed at UNFI’s distribution center in Auburn entered into a 9-week strike over a number of alleged violations of federal labor law.
UNFI Teamsters in Tacoma protest the company's failure to make timely health and welfare and retirement payments to the Trust.
UNFI can't get rid of the Teamsters. As many times as the anti-union company has tried, we’re still here to protect our members.
Since 2012, UNFI lost a strike and two major arbitrations to our union. UNFI keeps striking out.
This week, UNFI suffered a huge defeat in arbitration. An Arbitrator rightly held UNFI was obligated to abide by the contract language it negotiated.
Rather than honor our contract and the Arbitrator’s final and binding decision however, UNFI announced that they would appeal to federal court and attempt to set aside the well-reasoned Arbitration Award.
Our contract states:
But UNFI has demonstrated over and over that it does not honor its commitments in negotiations.
With many employers, we wouldn’t have even arbitrated this case. Our contract with UNFI gives members the right to transfer and retain their wages and benefits in the event that the employer moves operations within the jurisdiction of our Joint Council. It states:
Seems pretty clear. So when UNFI announced they would be shutting down their Tacoma warehouse and moving to a new facility in Centralia, the reasonable assumption was that the company would uphold its end of the bargain, as our Union and members have for decades.
Instead, UNFI ignored the contract and said the terms and conditions of the Tacoma agreement would not apply to our members who transferred to Centralia, and even denied our members the opportunity to transfer to Centralia, thus creating uncertainty for over 300 union members and their families. Thanks to the excellent work of our legal team, we were able to fight the company in arbitration and win.
This is not the first time our union has won an important victory against UNFI.
In July, UNFI employees in Tacoma walked out of the facility after the company was delinquent on health care and retirement payments that the company had agreed to in negotiations. Teamsters did not return to work until the union confirmed that UNFI had made the payment.
In 2016, the company had to cough up 50k for its failure to appropriately compensate employees who had worked in excess of 40 hours a week.
These victories can be attributed to a unified membership, strong contracts, and strong leadership. Under the direction of John Scearcy and Tracey Thompson before him, Local 117 has fought the anti-worker practices of UNFI, and we have have won.
This time will be no different. We will take on UNFI and we will win.
UNFI Teamsters in Tacoma protest the company's failure to make timely health and welfare and retirement payments to the Trust.
Teamsters at UNFI’s warehouse in Tacoma celebrated yesterday after an arbitrator ruled that union members shall be allowed to transfer to Centralia under the same terms and conditions that they have in Tacoma. The arbitrator also awarded transfer rights and back pay to any employees who are facing layoffs, which are scheduled to start at the facility later this week.
“I’m prouder to be a Teamster now than I’ve ever been in 30 years,” said Greg Wiest, a shop steward and forklift driver at the facility. “This is not only big for us, but it’s big for the entire labor movement. The talk in the warehouse since the decision is that a lot of us will be going down to Centralia. We’re pretty excited – morale’s way up today. Now we know that we have a job.”
"I’m prouder to be a Teamster now than I’ve ever been in 30 years."
Earlier in the year, UNFI announced that it would be shutting down the Tacoma warehouse and moving operations to a new facility in Centralia. The union filed a grievance after UNFI refused to honor clear contract language that laid out the terms and conditions of the move. The contract states: “…all employees working under the terms of this agreement at the old facility shall be afforded the opportunity to work at the new facility under the same terms and conditions and without any loss of seniority or other contractual rights or benefits.”Read more
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."