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."
Three UNFI Shop Stewards, Hamilton Lancaster, Dottie Dunthorn and Catalino Brown, helped achieve this historic contract.
On Saturday, Teamsters who work at UNFI voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new contract. It includes a key provision never before present in their collective bargaining agreement – a pension.
Hamilton Lancaster, a Shop Steward at UNFI who fought for this historic contract, mentions that they “are the first UNFI facility in the country to get a pension. It is something that the company has sworn up and down they will never ever give us.”
"I’ve been there for 12 years and the company said — you’ll never get a pension."
Five years ago, workers at UNFI stood together courageously in a nine-week strike to demand better wages and benefits. This time around, Teamsters presented a unified front to fight for financial security after their retirement.
Pension, however, is not the only improvement this contract achieves. It also includes caps on mandatory overtime that will improve quality of life for members. “It’s huge because we won’t be as burnt out,” says Catalino Brown. “We’ll get our days off and will be well-rested to come in and be motivated to work.”
Voting took place in two separate locations, at the Teamsters Hall in Tukwila and in Spokane. Both groups welcomed the new contract. As Lancaster sums it up, “We got some bargaining unit work protections in there, better vacation language, and everybody got a raise and a retro out of it. I think that made it a pretty good deal for a lot of people.”
Local 117 Vice President Marcus Williams, the lead negotiator for the union, praised the work of the bargaining committee.
"They did a fantastic job throughout the negotiations," he said. "The entire membership at UNFI stood strong for retirement security and other improvements. It shows what we are able to achieve when we stand together."
This victory was one of the two contracts ratified this weekend. Republic Services drivers won a long standing fight for a contract granting them parity in wages and working conditions with the garbage drivers. John Scearcy, Teamsters Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer, highlights the importance of these wins.
"Our union's trend of achieving historic contracts shows that our new approach of building contract campaigns is strong. Our focus on engaging and activating the true power-base of our union, the members, is working."
Caps on mandatory overtime for better work - life balance.
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.Read more