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Teamsters strike Auburn organic foods distributor; company says picketing is baseless

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Dec. 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
December 11, 2012 1:37 pm

Teamsters Local 117 workers have struck an Auburn organic foods distributor, United Natural Food Inc., claiming the company refused to negotiate on mandatory bargaining issues.

But the Rhode Island-based food company said the strike was “entirely baseless.” UNFI said the company offered to return to the bargaining table Monday well before the 7 p.m. start of picketing.

The company said it has begun hiring replacement workers to provide deliveries to its grocery customers during the busy holiday season.

The union claimed the company was violating the law.

“UNFI is mistreating its workers and demonstrating a complete disregard of federal labor law,” said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the local.

The company countered that the National Labor Relations Board has not found any instance of the company committing any unfair labor practices.

“The union continues to misrepresent the situation and undertake a smear campaign in an effort to damage UNFI’s reputation,” the foods distributor said.

The union didn’t take the company’s most recent proposal to its members for a vote, the company said. That proposal contained a proposal for a 10.8 percent raise over three years as well as several concessions to the Teamsters, the company claimed.

The union said UNFI workers continue to make less than comparable workers at other grocery distributors in Western Washington.

“UNFI employees perform the same work as other workers in the grocery warehouse industry,” claimed the union, “yet it compensates its employees at a rate of 25 percent less than the compensation provided to the major unionized grocery warehouse and distribution workers in the Puget Sound region.”

The union contends the company is reporting increased profits, but isn’t fully sharing them with its workers.

The company claimed the union has a history of working with the company, but that Teamsters’ tactics have changed.

“UNFI has historically had a good working relationship with Teamsters Local 117 for
the last 22 years, and its approach at all times in the negotiations has been to work
collaboratively to ensure it reaches an agreement that is in the best interest of its
associates, its customers and its business,” said UNFI.

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