Teamsters Local 414 drivers, warehouse and maintenance workers went on strike Dec. 12 at the Fort Wayne UNFI distribution center to protest their claims of the company’s violations of federal laws that protect workers’ rights. Workers at UNFI facilities in Hopkins and Green Bay walked out in solidarity with those in Indiana.
The strike ended Dec. 18 when negotiations between UNFI and Teamsters Local 414 resumed.
UNFI said yesterday that it saw the end of the strike coming. It issued this statement:
“UNFI is anticipating the end of labor disruptions tonight and the resumption of normal business activity at distribution centers in Fort Wayne, Green Bay and Hopkins. We hope to have our associates return to work in the very near-term. We’re also committed to return to the bargaining table in Fort Wayne and work in good faith with Teamsters Local 414 to reach a new labor agreement.”
“We’re happy that our valued associates at all three facilities will be able to return to work and no longer experience the unnecessary instability they’ve experienced during the early holiday season. We appreciate our customers’ patience during this and also thank our facility managers, supervisors and colleagues from around the country who came together to help ensure our customers continued to receive their shipments from us during this disruption.”
The strike by 158 Teamster members who supply food and related products to grocery stores could have affected customers in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky. Local 414’s collective bargaining agreement with UNFI expired Sept. 14.
UNFI is the largest wholesale distributor to natural and organic retailers in the U.S. and Canada. After its October 2018 acquisition of Supervalu, it became the second-largest grocery wholesaler in America. Since the acquisition, UNFI stock has lost 80 percent of its value, according to the union.
UNFI’s acquisition of Supervalu brought 5,000 Teamsters at scores of distribution centers across the country under a single company. Supervalu has long been a highly unionized company.
UNFI has said the union activity was “unlawful.”
“It is regrettable that Teamsters Local 414 decided to initiate an illegal strike after refusing for months to sit down with us and despite our efforts to bargain in good faith to reach a new contract agreement in Fort Wayne. Local 414 took this action before UNFI was even able to deliver a proposed wages and benefits package,” said Jill Sutton, UNFI chief legal counsel. “While this decision is unnecessarily reckless, UNFI is implementing robust contingency plans to maintain business continuity and support our customers and local communities. Meeting customer needs is our top priority, and UNFI is dedicated to taking necessary actions toward this end despite this unlawful union activity.”
Whole Foods/Amazon is now UNFI’s largest customer, with 21 percent of UNFI’s total revenues in 2019. UNFI has been Amazon/Whole Foods’ primary distributor for 20 years. The Fresh Market, Cub Foods and Festival Foods are major regional customers for UNFI in the Midwest.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million workers in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.