Thursday, December 27, 2012

Olympia Food Co-op refuses grocery orders in support of striking Teamsters


Olympia Food Co-op refuses grocery orders in support of striking Teamsters

Olympia, WA. (Olympia Food Co-op) December 28, 2012: After months of labor violations by their main supplier, the Olympia Food Co-op says “no more” to United Natural Foods Inc. The Co-op has refused to place orders with UNFI for one week, in support of striking Teamsters members.  

“The Olympia Food Co-op will cost UNFI more than $100,000 in sales over seven days by refusing to order through them. We hope this sends a strong message to UNFI that the integrity of our supply chain is important to us,” said Harry Levine, a staff member at the Olympia Food Co-op. “UNFI must end labor violations and return to good faith bargaining.”

The Olympia Food Co-op’s week-long refusal to order from UNFI follows on the heels of a similar action by Central Co-op in Seattle.

UNFI’s unfair labor practices have drawn the attention of the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). The National Labor Relations Board is investigating UNFI’s actions. Most UNFI warehouses are not unionized.

Warehouse workers and drivers at UNFI’s Auburn warehouse have been without a contract since late August, at which time UNFI began an aggressive campaign against their workers. According to the ILRF’s report, UNFI fenced the warehouse and hired armed guards; sent letters home to their employees threatening their job security; flew in UNFI workers from other areas and housed them in local hotels in case they were needed to break a strike; held a hiring fair for replacement workers at the warehouse during working hours; ceased overtime for union workers; and gave choice jobs and overtime assignments to non-union replacement workers.

The union held a two-day strike to protest these conditions earlier this month, followed by an unconditional return to work. Although UNFI agreed to the return, they then rescinded their offer and refused to allow the Teamsters back, permanently replacing 72 union members. The union returned to the picket line on Thursday, December 13th.

UNFI, an important distributor for natural food cooperatives in the northwest, has angered cooperatives by shorting deliveries to co-ops. Some cooperatives went without grocery deliveries for a week or more because of UNFI’s decision to “de-prioritize” their stores.

“Mispicks have increased from about three per order to nearly twenty per order since they began using replacement workers,” Virginia Lange, a buyer at the Olympia Food Co-op said. “We’ve also received orders that were 30% smaller than we ordered. Their refusal to settle with the union is as bad for their business as it is for ours.”

A letter from the Olympia Food Co-op’s Board of Directors to UNFI, sent in October, urged UNFI to quickly and amicably settle with their workers. “It is in UNFI’s own interest to provide a safe, productive work environment with competitive wages and benefits,” the letter noted. “As a business that posts a regular profit in a growing sector, you have every reason to do so.”

According to Supermarket News, in the first three quarters of 2012, UNFI's net income rose 11.2%, to $66.2 million, on a 15.5% increase in sales.

The Teamsters note that UNFI’s Auburn workers receive 25% lower wages than similarly employed workers in the same area, and that UNFI continues to insist on a physically demanding production standard. For instance, warehouse pickers would be required to “pick” 100 products (cases) per hour, with a less than 3% error rate.

About the Olympia Food Co-op: The Olympia Food Co-op is a member-based, not-for-profit, natural foods grocery store with two locations in Olympia, WA. The Olympia Food Co-op has provided healthy, organic and local food to the Olympia area since 1977, with an emphasis on promoting social and environmental responsibility. The stores are collectively managed and largely volunteer-run.

Jayne Rossman, Outreach
Olympia Food Co-op