In last month’s newsletter, a report was given about the United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) worker dispute and that UNFI (Skagit Valley Food Co-op’s main distributor) has a monopoly over natural and organic foods in America.
Despite the consolidation of business, wealth, and power by UNFI, a huge victory was won on February 7 by the warehouse workers and drivers, represented by Teamsters Local 117 when they overwhelmingly voted to ratify a fully-recommended 5-year contract agreement with UNFI.
A short summary of what happen to cause the workers to go on strike follows: UNFI employs 168 members of Teamsters Local 117 at its warehouse in Auburn, WA. During the yearlong contract negotiations, UNFI allegedly committed over 45 violations of federal labor law (allegations that were not pursued in order to win a fair contract). Contract negotiations were mainly about safety conditions and the huge compensation gap between UNFI and other major grocery distributors in the area. The company illegally hired a replacement workforce by permanently firing 72 warehouse workers, subcontracted driver routes, cut workers’ hours, erected a fence around its facility, hired security guards, and sent letters home to workers instructing them how to resign from their union.
UNFI repeatedly showed no willingness to end the strike. Instead, the company refused in federal mediation to reinstate the 72 workers it replaced, sought a court injunction to restrict workers’ rights to picket at the Auburn facility, and violated federal law by committing additional unfair labor practices. In addition, UNFI prematurely cancelled workers’ health insurance.
Because workers at UNFI stood together courageously in difficult conditions to fight for dignity and respect along with the tremendous support and help of their community partners, workers were able to achieve a fair and just contract.
The workers are deeply grateful to all of the individuals, unions, co-ops, small grocers, and other community organizations that took actions in solidarity with the striking workers and to those who donated to the hardship fund set up to provide workers with financial relief. The generosity made a tremendous difference in the lives of the 168 workers and their families who were impacted by the strike.
The agreement provides for the reinstatement of all workers, including the 72 who had been permanently replaced, health and welfare protections for workers, and meaningful wage increases.
February 21st, 7:40 am, Janet Mckinney and five other concerned citizens of Skagit attended the Skagit Co-op board meeting and presented them with a letter regarding the above strike and three requests to the board members for future consideration. The group was received with respect and courteously This is an important first step in addressing the monopoly on natural and organic food distribution and how our community may begin to respond to the problem. Download file below to read the letter submitted: