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August 5, 2020
The Teamsters' weeklong strike at UNFI's Fort Wayne, Indiana, distribution center ended Saturday with unanimous approval of a 4-year agreement.
Fort Wayne-based Teamsters Local 414 had announced a tentative agreement on July 29, according to its Facebook page.
About 160 members—including drivers, warehouse and maintenance workers—took part in the strike, which began July 23. The union claimed UNFI engaged in unfair labor practices by arbitrarily firing two members. Employee members had worked without a contract since August 2019, despite more than 40 bargaining sessions between the local and the natural foods distributor.
Providence, Rhode Island-based UNFI, the nation’s largest public grocery distributor, announced the contract settlement with Teamsters 414 Monday.
Local 414 couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
“We’re very pleased that Teamsters Local 414 has ratified a new long-term labor agreement for our distribution center in Fort Wayne, Indiana,” Jill Sutton, UNFI's chief legal officer, said in a statement Monday. “UNFI’s four-year contract with Local 414 maintains competitive benefit and wage terms in line with other facilities in the Midwest. The contract also includes language updates that afford UNFI the flexibility it needs to operate and succeed as a competitive distribution business in today’s landscape. We believe this resolution is a positive development for UNFI, our valued associates in Fort Wayne and our customers.”
A key stumbling block in negotiations involved a work rule on how union employees must respond when given a direct order by a UNFI supervisor or manager, according to Local 414.
The local filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board in connection with the June 29 firing of a Fort Wayne DC worker when a union steward wasn’t present, according to a July 23 press release. UNFI reportedly fired the employee for failing to respond to a supervisor’s order.
One other member was fired and another suspended under similar circumstances, the union said. As details of the contract have not been released, it's not clear if the employees have been rehired or compensated for lost wages.
Other issues included wages and health insurance. Overall, Teamsters 414 represents 2,500 members in northeastern Indiana.
“UNFI intends to continue pursuing fair, workable labor agreements that address our associates’ needs while allowing us to effectively serve customers and thrive in the modern food distribution environment,” Sutton said in the released statement. “We owe it to all of our stakeholders—ranging from associates to customers to shareholders — to reach agreements that position us to adapt and remain nimble.”
The strike marked the second work stoppage by Teamsters 414 during contract talks. In December, UNFI and Teamsters Local 414 restarted negotiations after a strike at the Fort Wayne DC led to walkouts at UNFI facilities in Hopkins, Minnesota, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, whose 850 combined Teamsters members honored the picket lines.
This piece originally appeared on Supermarket News, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more grocery trends and insights.
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