(MORENO VALLEY, Calif.) – More than a year ago, truck drivers at United Natural Foods, Inc.’s (UNFI) distribution center voted in a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election for representation by Teamsters Local 63 in Covina, Calif. The votes in that election were not counted – until now.
On Nov. 4, the drivers’ votes were finally tallied after an NLRB panel mandated that the ballots be counted. The drivers voted to be represented by the Teamsters.
“Last year, UNFI executives went to unusual lengths to disrupt the free expression of these workers’ fundamental rights, by getting the ballots impounded on a technicality,” said Randy Korgan, an organizer with Teamsters Local 63. “We are excited that finally our brothers’ voices were heard loud and clear – but UNFI’s behavior is unacceptable, unfair and unsustainable. Workers who want to join a union should not be intimidated, they should not be harassed, and they shouldn’t wait forever to see their voice at work recognized. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
While the truck drivers have now managed to see their right to form a union recognized, the situation at UNFI’s food warehouse in Southern California remains unsettled.
“This is not the first time UNFI has been called to task for its roughshod labor rights violations at their Moreno Valley distribution center,” said Steve Vairma, Teamsters International Vice President and Warehouse Division Director.
An International Labor Rights Forum report found that, in an earlier effort to unionize by its Moreno Valley warehouse workers, UNFI broke basic international labor standards and violated United States laws protecting workers’ rights to unionize. UNFI agents successfully deployed death threats and other negative campaigning to keep the mainly immigrant warehouse workers from organizing.
Teamsters Local 63, which represents the drivers, has said that negotiations to establish a collective labor contract have not yet begun. The drivers are seeking respectful treatment from supervisors, a decent retirement plan, overtime pay and health care benefits so they can better support their families.
UNFI’s Moreno Valley Distribution Center distributes to Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, Northgate, Vons, Ralphs and other food retailers in Southern California and the American Southwest.
“The Southern California grocery supply chain has until recently been rated highly on its sustainability practices, but in recent years is being threatened by low-road, brutal labor relations. Companies like UNFI are undermining the California economy by exploiting the predominantly immigrant workforce,” Vairma said.
UNFI is Whole Foods Market’s primary distributor and its strategic partner in logistics. Like Whole Foods, UNFI purports to be committed to fair trade and sustainable food. However, UNFI, as it grows beyond its roots, is developing a track record of conflict and abuse with its work force and communities such as in Moreno Valley, Calif., and Montgomery, N.Y.
In New York, UNFI’s predatory pursuit of $18 million in tax credits has pitted it against local schools in crisis. There, UNFI is clashing with the local community over its refusal to pay its full share of school taxes.
Founded in 1903, the Teamsters Union represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.