(ANAHEIM, Calif.) – Teamsters and organic food advocates educated attendees of the annual Natural Products Expo West conference this weekend about conference sponsor UNFI (NYSE: UNFI) and its abusive and unsustainable behavior toward its workers. UNFI is a $6 billion Fortune 500 company that is America’s largest organic and natural foods wholesaler.
The protesters called attention to UNFI’s community and worker abuses by distributing leaflets and holding banners that read, “UNFI: Stop the Bullying” and “UNFI is Unsustainable.” On Saturday, an airplane banner flew over the Anaheim Convention Center that read, “UNFI: Stop the Bullying.”
Despite UNFI’s attempts to infringe on protesters’ rights to disseminate information on public property, thousands of conference-goers were able to discuss and learn about the abuses taking place in Whole Foods’ UNFI-dominated supply chain – with people at times speaking to each other across metal fences.
Some conference attendees were shocked to hear that in Moreno Valley, Calif., UNFI broke federal laws that protect workers’ rights when the company intimidated, threatened and fired workers. In 2012, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) reported that UNFI engaged in serious violations of workers’ rights, including threatening violence against mostly immigrant workers in Moreno Valley who supported the union. The ILRF also found that UNFI violated workers’ rights in Auburn, Wash., when it threatened to permanently replace them.
Presently, UNFI still refuses to recognize the union formed by UNFI drivers in Moreno Valley. The Teamsters Union was federally certified last November as the drivers’ union after UNFI managed to delay the counting of the ballots for over a year.
Other conference attendees, primarily small retailers and producers, had their own stories of UNFI’s bullying tactics. None were willing to share their stories publicly for fear of retaliation from UNFI and Whole Foods.
Hundreds stopped to talk to Sergio Acosta, a warehouse worker UNFI fired when he tried to organize a union with his fellow co-workers.
“I attended UNFI’s shareholder meeting in December so that I could tell my story. Many people are showing their support here at Expo West. They agree that if Whole Foods and UNFI want to start living their professed values, UNFI needs to stop firing workers like me, stop the death threats against immigrant workers like they did in Moreno Valley and start recognizing the workers’ union,” Acosta said.
UNFI CEO Steve Spinner walked past and ignored the UNFI workers, Teamsters and consumers as they educated conference attendees about Whole Foods’ own supply chain responsibility as UNFI’s largest customer.
“UNFI and Whole Foods both claim to be values-driven organizations,” said Marc Moran, organizer at Teamsters Joint Council 42 in Pomona, Calif. “We came to Natural Products Expo West to inform the businesses and organizations in this industry about UNFI’s unconscionable behavior. What’s amazing is how many buyers, restaurant owners and organic producers told us they also feel bullied by UNFI and Whole Foods’ abuse of dominant market power.”
“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 to 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 for Whole Foods to stop this illegal bullying behavior in its supply chain,” said Randy Korgan, Organizing Director for Teamsters Local 63 in Covina, Calif. “If values matter, like Whole Foods advertises, then it should live by them.”
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.