Sunday, January 6, 2013

Co-op Resumes Ordering from UNFI - Teamsters Strike Continues

After seven days of refusing to order from UNFI (the Co-op's main distributor) due to an ongoing strike by Teamsters Local #117, we regret to inform members that we are once again placing orders with UNFI.

This is a situation in which our financial bottom line is at great odds with our social justice values, and we are saddened to make this choice. The Teamsters know of and support our decision to ensure our business remains financially feasible, and we are looking for as many other ways to help as we can.

Here's why we must make this regrettable decision:

  •  60% (roughly) of our packaged groceries are ordered through UNFI. If we refuse to order with UNFI, we will quickly run out of food on the shelves. (We receive deliveries from other distributors for produce, meat and cheese, as well as working directly with hundreds of small vendors.) There's a reason that we order so much with UNFI: as a member of the National Cooperative Grocer's Association (basically, a cooperative of co-ops) we are part of a distribution contract between all of the NCGA co-ops and UNFI. By bargaining together, we can get better deals on groceries for our members. Plus, all of our regular specials (the "Co-op Deals" sales and coupons) are part of this contract. 
  • If we order those grocery items through an alternate distributor, wholesale prices are 20-30% higher than they are with UNFI. Customers don't want prices to rise and the Co-op can't afford to "eat" the difference. In our recent Co-op survey, 66% of respondents said that they would not support price increases of 25% in order to support the union. Furthermore, if we ordered and did not raise prices, we wouldn't have enough money left to run the stores. The Co-op runs on a tight margin of about 35%. That means that for every dollar you spend at the Co-op, about 65 cents pays for the product and 35 cents pays for staffing costs, low-income and senior discounts, mortgages, electricity, insurance, repairs, other programs, etc. If cost of the product was suddenly 85 cents per dollar, we won't be able to pay our bills with the remaining 15 cents. 
  • This is a particularly difficult time for the Co-op to lose sales, since lower sales and higher staffing costs in late 2012 have left us with lowered cash reserves. Before we even incurred the costs of not ordering from UNFI for a week, Co-op staff were voluntarily cutting hours (and receiving lower paychecks) to help build our cash reserves back up. 

Here's what the Co-op is doing to assist the Teamsters:

  • Postcards from customers: by next week, we'll have postcards available in store so that you can send your thoughts to UNFI. Just leave it with us and we'll mail it for you. 
  • We'll post handbills in the store letting customers know how to tell which products are from UNFI, so customers can decide whether or not to buy products that have crossed the picket line. 
  • At the next Board meeting, the Board will consider a proposal to collect money for the union's strike fund at the registers. Shoppers would be able to "round up" for striking workers, if the Board approves the proposal. If you don't want to wait to do it at the store, you can donate right now at the Teamster's website
  • In December, our deli workers brought hot food and coffee to the picket line - we plan to do this again!
  • We will continue to publicize updates to the Teamsters' struggle and urge our members to pressure UNFI to create a fair contract for its workers. Keep an eye out in the stores, on Facebook, and right here on the blog. You can also read the Teamsters' own updates at their website
  • We will continue talking with other co-ops and with the NCGA to pressure UNFI from the "inside". 
  • And of course, we'll keep asking the Teamsters themselves what we can do to help.

Because of the disconnect between our values and UNFI's actions, we are also looking into long term changes to our distributor relationships. We plan to research whether (and how) we might permanently source our food from other distributors. If we decide to stay with UNFI, we will strongly advocate for social justice to be made part of the next NCGA-UNFI contract. (Our current contract technically does not allow us to refuse to order from UNFI due to this labor dispute.)

If you have questions or comments, please contact us at outreach @