American workers are at the heart of our economy and culture! This acknowledgement translates into a recognition that securing our financial and democratic future depends on workers receiving respect and fairness. Today, because of corporate consolidation of business, wealth and power; our working class people are caught in a downward spiral of exploitation. During the Depression Era, when workers faced similar pressures, the people united and fought back in an effort to gain a just and equitable workplace while championing a resurgence in grassroots democracy and community involvement.
What has this to do with the Co-op? This is our chance to unite and fight back.
The main supplier of the Skagit Valley Food Co-op is United Natural
Foods, Inc. (UNFI). In spite of record profits, UNFI is hurting workers and refusing to play by the rules.
UNFI employs 168 members of Teamsters Local 117 at its warehouse in Auburn, WA. Beginning in March 2012, UNFI has allegedly committed over 45 violations of federal labor law, in response to failed contract negotiations over safety conditions and the huge compensation gap between UNFI and other major grocery distributors in the area. The company illegally hired a replacement workforce, 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.
On December 10, union members at UNFI’s Auburn facility went on an unfair labor practice strike to protest the company’s unfair treatment of its employees. On December 13, after UNFI accepted the workers’ unconditional offer to return to work, the company reneged on its commitment and permanently replaced 72 warehouse workers in violation of federal law. Since then, UNFI has shown 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 has prematurely cancelled workers’ health insurance.
In December 2012, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), an independent research organization dedicated to documenting abuses of worker rights abroad and here in the United States, published a report condemning UNFI for "serious violations of workers' rights" at the company's facilities in Auburn and in Moreno, CA.
UNFI is the leading independent distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods in the country. Among the values that UNFI advertises on its website are “integrity and respect in all of our actions; trust and accountability in all relationships; and a safe and healthy work environment.” UNFI’s treatment of its workers makes a mockery of the values it purports to hold.
The Skagit Valley Food Co-op is more than a place to meet friends and to purchase ethically and sustainably-sourced food. It is a good idea in action: people working together to make the world a better place. It is called a Co-op for a reason. Our Co-op was created for many reasons but among them was the firm belief that we are above all a community, that the way we treat one another is important, and that our actions should reflect that belief. So, when a large company we buy from treats its workers unfairly, whose side should we be on? And that question is not theoretical. The workers who have banded together to protect their interests or the anything but cooperative corporation?
If we ignore the immoral and illegal behavior of this corporation, we are making a mockery of our vision of a just and sustainable economy built upon a foundation of cooperatively owned enterprises modeling ethical business and employment practices.
How do we support the workers without harming our own Co-op?
UNFI has created a distribution monopoly that puts the Co-op in a bind with limited choices, but we as consumers can refuse to buy some of UNFI’s products. Additionally, as Co-op members, we can ask the Co-op board to begin to explore other delivery options than UNFI and make this fact known to UNFI. Working with other cooperatives such as PCC and the Central Food Coop in Seattle, Community Food Co-op, the Olympia Food Coop, and small independent businesses such as the Pubic Market, we must urge the Co-op Board to initiate research for better alternatives so that all of us are not held hostage by any corporation as we strive to create a more resilient food system.
The strike is taking an enormous financial toll on the workers and their families. All workers have lost their health insurance coverage and many are unable to pay the rent, put food on the table, and pay their basic utilities. Teamsters Local 117, the Union that represents the workers, has set up a hardship fund for UNFI workers and their families. All proceeds from the fund will go directly to UNFI workers experiencing the greatest financial hardship during the strike. To donate, go to www.unfidrivenbygreed.com/help
Here's what else you can do to hold UNFI and its partner Whole Foods accountable, and to support workers who have been permanently replaced by UNFI:
- Sign the online petition in support of workers at www.UNFIDrivenByGreed.com
- Tell your local natural foods retailer that UNFI is not treating its workers with dignity and respect. Please urge your store management to support striking workers at UNFI.
- Come down to the strike line (22 30th St. NE Auburn, WA) and stand with picketing workers!
Long Time Member of the Co-op