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 Although UNFI agreed to the return, they then rescinded their offer and refused to allow the Teamsters back, permanently replacing 72 union members.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


Saturday, December 15, 2012

At 9:00 p.m. on Dec 13th, Teamsters Local 117 voted to resume their strike against United Natural Foods, Inc (UNFI). After a two-day strike on December 10th and 11th, UNFI accepted the worker's good-faith, unconditional offer to return to work. However, on Dec 13th, UNFI told 72 returning warehouse workers that they will be permanently replaced, prompting the union's return to the picket line. The union has also filed new unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).   Read the Teamsters’ full press release at:

How does the strike affect the Olympia Food Co-op?
  • UNFI is the Co-op’s largest supplier.  They provide 60-70% of the food we stock in the store including packaged foods, dairy, frozen, cleaning products, and body care. Most of the Co-op’s sales are tied to UNFI deliveries as well.  
  • Produce, deli, body care, and meat will be less affected by the strike as they have many other sources and order less from UNFI.
  • The Co-op has supported the Teamsters’ struggle since August.  We have sent letters, informed our members, and helped with publicity. We also advocated for other Washington, Idaho and Montana Co-ops to support the union.
  • The Co-op will order with UNFI for one week while awaiting the outcome of federal mediation between UNFI and the Union on Thursday, December 20th.. During this time staff will create accounts with alternate distributors. Here’s why: when the Union went on strike on Dec 10th, the Co-op cancelled our orders for Dec 13th in support of striking workers.  When the strike ended, we placed our Dec 15th orders. The Co-op Board of Directors met on Dec. 13th.  Supplies and inventory were dwindling.  They reviewed the Co-op Mission Statement which directs them to make good food accessible to more people, support efforts to increase democratic process, see to the long term health of the business, and support efforts to foster a socially and economically egalitarian society. In the short term (one week), the Board chose a path to provide for members’ immediate needs while staff develop alternative suppliers in order to support the Teamsters in the longer term.  This balances our support of the strike with our contractual obligations.
  • The union supports our immediate position.  They have appreciated our support all along and supported us in seeing to the long term health of the business. They have encouraged us to seek alternative distributors that are Union shops.
What can members and shoppers expect during the strike?
  • There may be many out of stock items. The strike and the replacement workers are impacting operations and supply at the Auburn warehouse. Affected departments will continue working hard to source UNFI items from other distributors, to minimize the impact as much as possible upon shopping.
  • Some of the items on the shelves will have been processed and delivered by non-union replacement workers.  We will have signs on the store doors that inform members how to determine which items were delivered by UNFI.  This can be determined by looking at the shelf tag below the stocked item.  For most items, if there is a long bar code on the shelf tag, it was delivered from UNFI.
What else can we do to support striking workers?
  • Join the picket line! Adding to the Teamsters presence on the line is always good. The warehouse is only 40 minutes away by car. Bring cameras to document and take musical instruments to get folks singing, chanting, and laughing.
  • Bring food and hot coffee to picketing workers!
  • If the strike/lock-out continues, you can donate to a strike fund! Go the website for info on how to make donations.

Please contact the Board if you have questions or comments at

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Co-op supports Teamsters Local #117!

Union members at the Co-op’s main distributor, United Natural Foods Inc., went on strike at 7PM, Monday evening through Wednesday afternoon. They’ve been without a contract since UNFI walked away from negotiations in August, and in the interim UNFI has hired replacement workers, sent threatening letters home to workers, ended overtime for union members, and hired armed guards. Striking workers asked UNFI to return to the bargaining table in good faith, and yesterday evening they set a date to continue negotiations. Yay!

In support of striking workers, the Co-op refused to place our UNFI orders on Wednesday for Thursday delivery. These orders would have been fulfilled by replacement workers, and placing orders would have broken the picket line. Supporting our distributor’s workers is part of our mission to “support efforts to foster a socially and economically egalitarian society” and to “encourage economic and social justice”.

Some products may be temporarily out of stock due to our support of the strike. If you are looking for an out of stock item, staff members will be happy to call our other location to see if they have the product in stock or to help you find a similar item. We will receive our next order on Saturday morning, so you can expect all of your regular items to be back in stock at that time! And don't worry - the stores are still full of delicious food and other goods.

Let UNFI know that you support striking Teamsters, and that they should cease labor violations and negotiate a fair contract with their workers. Contact:

Hank Heatherly - General Manager

Steven Spinner - President and CEO
United Natural Foods Incorporated
313 Iron Horse Way
Providence, RI. 02908-5637
Fax: 302.655.5049

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Board Meeting RESCHEDULED for Dec. 13 + Agenda!

We are rescheduling our December Board meeting on Dec. 13, as the third Thursday was going to conflict with multiple Board Members' vacation plans.

The Board meets from 6:30-9:30 at the Co-op's downtown office (610 Columbia St. SW). Co-op members are welcome to attend.

Our proposed agenda is:

Proposed Board Agenda for December 13, 2012 6:30-9:30 pm

Agenda Item

2 min
Mission Statement & Commitments Review

3 min
Member Comment

10 min
Staff report

5 min
Committee Reports

20 min
Overtime Report
How are the Co-op’s overtime rules affecting the labor budget?
15 min
Hiring Proposal
Should the Co-op hire five more staff members?
10 min
Board Appointments
Per Co-op bylaws, the Board can appoint up to two people to fill currently vacant Board spots for 2013
Discuss & consent
30 min
Bylaws Review
Should we create a committee to plan for a possible 2013 ballot on changing some of the bylaws?

20 min
Committees Review Cont’d
Which Board committees should be changed, and how?

30 min
Board Self-Evaluation for 2012
What went well? What should be done differently in 2013?
20 min

                                                               Total Meeting Time:        2 hours 45 min