(BAKERSFIELD, Calif.) – Teamsters, grocery distribution workers and community leaders protested Sprouts Farmers Market (NASDAQ: SFM) at the retailer’s grand opening of its Bakersfield store today. Sprouts Farmers Market is supplied by UNFI (NYSE: UNFI) – a $6 billion Fortune 500 company that is America’s largest organic and natural foods wholesaler. Sprouts Farmers Market was taken public in a 2013 IPO by private equity firm Apollo Global Management (NYSE: APO), which is still a major direct holder of Sprouts.
The protestors called attention to Sprouts’ health code violations and UNFI’s community and worker abuses, distributing balloons and leaflets that read, “Sprouts: Unhealthy for our Community” and fly swatters that read, “Shop & Swat at Sprouts.”
“UNFI and Sprouts both claim to be values-driven organizations,” said Marc Moran, organizer at Teamsters Joint Council 42 in Pomona, Calif. “Both companies have benefited from consumers’ shift toward food and groceries that are perceived to be ethically sourced in a sustainable manner. We are here today to inform the public about UNFI’s unconscionable behavior.”
In Moreno Valley, Calif., UNFI broke federal laws that protect workers’ rights when it intimidated, threatened and fired workers. In November 2014, the Teamsters Union was federally certified as the drivers’ union in Moreno Valley, after UNFI managed to delay the counting of the ballots for over a year on a technicality. Yet, UNFI still refuses to recognize the workers’ union.
“It’s time for UNFI to stop the bullying and stop the intimidation,” said Steve Vairma, Teamsters Warehouse Division Director. “Over the years UNFI has tried to undermine workers who have asserted their rights protected by United States law, even where the Teamsters have been certified as the workers’ union through federally supervised elections. UNFI wants to destroy its workers’ fundamental rights join together to improve their working conditions.”
“Whenever a group of workers at a UNFI warehouse or truck yard attempt to form a union, UNFI management brutalizes them with a barrage of tactics based on contempt and fear, solely for the purpose of intimidating their own workers. It’s time Sprouts took a stand to stop this illegal bullying behavior in their supply chain,” said Randy Korgan, Organizing Director for Teamsters Local 63 in Covina, Calif. “We expect that Sprouts, with its claim to be values-driven, would tell its suppliers to treat the local workers and local community with respect.”
Across America, UNFI has taken massive tax subsidies while local school systems struggle. UNFI recently built a warehouse in this manner in Hudson Valley, N.Y. – the company took 15 years’ worth of tax breaks, even though the community has experienced major cuts in the local school district’s education budget and have seen their property taxes increase.
Organic consumers also worry that UNFI, with its acquisition of Sacramento, Calif.-based Tony’s Fine Foods, is veering away from a professed commitment to organic food – possibly straying toward factory farming and undermining the further growth of sustainable farming and food consumption.
Sprouts Farmers Markets launched a rapid expansion after its IPO, with 14 new stores opened in the last quarter of 2014 and at least 11 new stores opening in the first several months of 2015.
“In Sprouts’ aggressive strategy to expand to key lucrative areas of the South and Southwest, the company needs to stay cognizant of the ethical values of its customer base,” Vairma said.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters 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 on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.