Frontline workers at grocery supplier UNFI in New York are urging supermarket chains and online retailers to prepare for possible prolonged disruptions to food supplies because they say UNFI is not taking COVID-19 safety seriously, according to a Nov. 5 press release. Teamsters say warehouse and delivery workers at UNFI, the second-largest wholesale food distributor in the U.S., have overwhelmingly voted to strike to demand that the company stop violating federal labor laws and comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines. Strikes and work stoppages at UNFI could start at any time.
UNFI’s workers normally keep the shelves of major food retailers in New York City and the greater tri-state area well-stocked. UNFI’s customers include Whole Foods, Ahold Delhaize’s Stop & Shop, Allegiance Retail Services’ Foodtown, Park Slope Food Co-Op and hundreds of other grocery stores.
In New York, more than 120 Teamster delivery drivers at UNFI in the Hudson Valley, represented by Teamsters Local Union 445, have overwhelmingly voted to strike. Most recently, Teamsters say UNFI has failed to comply with New York, New Jersey and CDC COVID-19 guidelines that include providing workers with adequate protective equipment, including face masks, and disinfecting and cleaning workspaces. For example, UNFI employees report that they have been forced to supply their own PPE and cleaning supplies because UNFI fails to provide them, in violation of New York regulations. Teamsters say the workers are concerned about what these failures mean for COVID-19 rates in their communities and for the holidays.
“UNFI’s efforts to circumvent COVID-19 safety regulations in New York shows contempt for our communities, for public health officials and elected leaders, and especially their own essential workers, all of whom have struggled for eight months to contain the spread of this deadly virus,” said Dan Maldonado, president of Teamsters Local 445. “UNFI should be doing everything it can to keep families safe at Thanksgiving, but we’re worried that the company’s negligence could contribute to COVID-19 spikes, and UNFI workers are ready to do whatever it takes to protect our communities, especially as we enter the holiday season.”
The Teamsters represent approximately 3,700 UNFI workers in 17 states who may have the right to honor picket line extensions.
“During this time, nothing is more important to us than the safety of each one of our members, their families and the general public,” said Teamsters Warehouse Division Director and International VP Steve Vairma. “If UNFI expects its frontline workers to perform hazardous jobs and keep our food supply chain running, the company must provide workers with a safe workplace and stop attacking their healthcare.”