About 150 United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) drivers and warehouse workers represented by Green Bay Teamsters Local 662 rejected a proposed contract from the wholesaler, authorizing a strike, and did not make a counter offer. The labor union members help service and supply grocery chains, such as Festival Foods, County Market and Sentry, across the region.
The crux of the dispute centers around healthcare benefits, which the Teamsters indicated UNFI plans to reduce. UNFI noted that the contract offered included multiyear wage increases; continued contributions to the associate’s pension plan; and a Teamster-sponsored healthcare plan that minimizes associate increases and reduces the family premium contribution beginning in the second year.
“This vote is a wake-up call to UNFI that we will not just roll over and accept a reduction in our healthcare benefits,” said Craig Vandenheuvel, a 20-year UNFI/SuperValu employee and chief steward. “Our healthcare is very important to all of us and our families. We’ve given up wage increases over the years to keep our high-quality healthcare and there’s no way we're going to let the company take it away.”
In case of a strike, UNFI has contingency plans in place to ensure the continued operation of the Green Bay distribution center.
“We respect and value our associates and are committed to providing them with a wage and benefit contract that supports their continued growth and success,” said Paul Green, UNFI’s chief supply chain officer.
“A labor dispute is not in anyone’s best interest and frankly we’re disappointed that Teamsters Local 662 rejected our offer,” Green added. “We remain hopeful that our associates will reconsider before any further labor dispute occurs. We’re ready to get an agreement completed as soon as they are, but in the meantime have no choice but to make contingency plans in order to meet the needs of our customers.”
While Green notes that it has successfully “negotiated and entered into fair contracts with 10 local unions across the country,” Green Bay is not alone in protesting UNFI's contract offers.
After completing the acquisition of SuperValu last year, the company announced plans to relocate the Tacoma, Wash., distribution facility to Centralia, Wash., as part of a larger consolidation effort in the Pacific Northwest. About 100 teamsters from Local 117 walked off the job at the Tacoma distribution center in May, in protest of what the Teamsters claimed was a violation of the workers’ contract by UNFI in the event of a facility move. The two parties are now involved in active arbitration over the contract with a ruling expected in October, but earlier this month, workers at the Tacoma facility were notified of layoffs that are planned in four phases, beginning Sept. 28 and concluding in December, according to a local news report.