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Teamsters, UNFI talks resume; members return to work

A strike at an Indiana distribution center triggered two days of picketing in Minnesota and Wisconsin this week, but it's not clear if an agreement is near.

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Teamsters oppose UNFI's proposed executive compensation package

United Natural Foods Inc. and the Teamsters are returning to the bargaining table, bringing an end to picketing at three Midwestern distribution centers, UNFI reported Wednesday.  

A total of 158 drivers, warehouse and maintenance workers who belong to Teamsters Local 414 went on strike Dec. 12 at UNFI’s distribution center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The local’s contract expired on Sept. 14, and the union alleged that the wholesaler engaged in unfair labor practices, including a failure to bargain. On Tuesday, Teamsters 414 extended pickets to UNFI DCs in Hopkins, Minnesota, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, whose 850 combined Teamsters members honored the picket lines.

"After they agreed to meet, I pulled down the picket lines," said George Gerdes, principal officer of Local 414, told the StarTribune of Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Our goal was to get them back to the table in good-faith bargaining."

“UNFI is anticipating the end of labor disruptions [Wednesday] and the resumption of normal business activity at distribution centers in Fort Wayne, Green Bay and Hopkins. We hope to have our associates return to work in the very near-term. We’re also committed to return to the bargaining table in Fort Wayne and work in good faith with Teamsters Local 414 to reach a new labor agreement,” UNFI said in a statement late Wednesday.

Related:UNFI, Teamsters square off as Supervalu contracts end

“We’re happy that our valued associates at all three facilities will be able to return to work and no longer experience the unnecessary instability they’ve experienced during the early holiday season,” UNFI said in the statement. “We appreciate our customers' patience during this and also thank our facility managers, supervisors and colleagues from around the country who came together to help ensure our customers continued to receive their shipments from us during this disruption.”

Less than a month ago, Teamsters at the Green Bay DC approved a contract after rejecting in August an offer that would have reduced their health-care benefits, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.

UNFI spokesman Mike Wilken told the Press Gazette on Tuesday, "It's reckless for Teamsters leadership to expose UNFI’s valued associates to unnecessary uncertainty and instability around the holidays because of its misguided efforts to support an illegal strike in Fort Wayne and further timed to coincide with our annual shareholders meeting tomorrow."

During that shareholders' meeting, CEO Steve Spinner said, "UNFI remains pro-labor and pro-associate. For UNFI to thrive and meet the needs of its various stakeholders—including maintaining strong wages and benefits for associates across the country—we must have labor agreements that allow us to be flexible and nimble in a rapidly changing environment."

He did not discuss the company's conflicts with the Teamsters at the distribution centers in the Midwest or in the Pacific Northwest. There, the building of a new distribution center and the closing of former Supervalu DCs, which operated with union contracts, led to arbitration and could land in court.

UNFI’s Fort Wayne DC supplies food and other products to grocery stores in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky. The Hopkins facility, with more than 700 Teamsters Local 120 members, serves the Cub Foods supermarket chain, and the Green Bay DC, with 150 Teamsters Local 662 members, supplies Festival Foods stores.


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Some information in this piece originally appeared on Supermarket News, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more grocery trends and insights.

About the Author(s)

Victoria A.F. Camron

Digital content specialist, New Hope Network

Victoria A.F. Camron was a freelance writer and editor contracted with New Hope Network from 2015 until April 2022, when she was hired as New Hope Network's digital content specialist—otherwise known as the web editor.

As she continues the work she has done for years—covering the natural products industry for NewHope.com and Natural Foods Merchandiser; writing up earnings calls and other corporate news; and curating roundups of trends and information for the website—she is thrilled to be an official part of the New Hope team. (She doesn't mind having paid holidays and vacations again, though!) Victoria also compiled and edited newsletters, and served as interim content director for Delicious Living in 2016.

Before working as a freelancer, she spent 17 years in community newspapers in Longmont, Colorado, and St. Charles and Wheaton, Illinois. Victoria is a Colorado native and a graduate of Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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