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.
“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.
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.