In the City of Brotherly Love, Teamster brothers and sisters are loving their new contract.
Recently, about 450 workers at the Philadelphia Food Distribution Center voted overwhelmingly to ratify a winning five-year agreement that includes wage increases, employer-paid health care and increased employer contributions to the pension plan, among other gains.
The single agreement covers members of Local 929 in Philadelphia who work for nearly 30 employers in a variety of jobs, including truck drivers, warehouse workers, sales representatives, cashiers and more.
“We were able to negotiate wage and pension increases, as well as fully employer-paid health and welfare coverage for five years, without a single giveback,” said Rocky Bryan, President of Local 929. “We are very pleased with this agreement.”
“The Philadelphia Food Distribution Center Teamsters deserve the best, and we are happy to have negotiated a strong agreement worthy of the hard work and dedication they bring to the job every day,” said Bill Hamilton, International Vice President and President of Joint Council 53.
For these members who work in the wholesale produce industry, in addition to employer-paid health care coverage, the contract includes annual increases of 5 percent in employer contributions to the defined benefit pension plan under the Teamsters Pension Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity. In other words, no small potatoes.
Seeds of Success
At the Philadelphia Food Distribution Center, Teamsters form a flurry of activity in the massive 700,000 square foot, 24/7 facility.
The members move throughout the center on power jacks, loading and unloading fresh wholesale fruits and vegetables.
The produce is transported, stored, inspected and sold by Teamsters in a process where everyone helps each other out to move efficiently and get the job done.
The seeds of success were planted early on for Teamsters at the distribution center.
A strong foundational contract was built upon over the years to produce the latest agreement, with guarantees that bring comfort to the members.
“We’re excited to have a contract that’s a five-year commitment from the store owners to us. It’s employment that we can count on. It’s a promise and that’s a good thing,” said John Friesema, a 19-year year Local 929 member and shop steward. “These are all family guys who’ve been here, some of them for 25, 30 or 35 years, and many have kids and grandkids. We can count on buying a house or a car because we know the wages are going to be there.”
Dennis DiSapatino has worked at the center for 26 years.
“If you hustle like I do, you can send three kids to college,” DiSapatino said proudly.
Michael Baldwin, also a Local 929 member, has worked at the center for 16 years. His two brothers and nephew work for other independent merchants at the market.
“I’ve been a Teamster all my life, even before working here,” Baldwin said.
Another family has been in business at the distribution center for 110 years. Mark Levin, of M. Levin Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, owns the family-run wholesale produce company.
“We’ve got good people here and most of our employees are lifers,” Levin said of the Teamster members.
Dominic Leo could be called a “lifer.” Leo has worked for 39 years at the center, the past 25 of which have been with Procacci Brothers. He started as a delivery person for another company and worked his way up to his current position. Like many of his fellow Teamsters, Leo starts work early, at 2:30 a.m., when most people are still in bed.
“This is a great contract for us. Our health and welfare is paid for, and we made out well with our pension,” Leo said. “I’m happy to have been with the Teamsters all this time.”
Among the vibrant and colorful produce on display behind Leo are sweet strawberries, crunchy carrots and leafy lettuce.
Leo’s job is to purchase and sell the best quality produce, which is where his decades of experience come into good use.
How does one pick the freshest produce? “It’s just by the look and the feel,” Leo said. “It’s a process that you are taught over the course of the years you are here, handed down by the older generation.”
Generations ago, the produce market was located on Dock Street in Philadelphia. In Colonial times, it was where local farmers sold their goods to merchants.
Since 2011, the market has made a home in its current state-of-the-art facility on Essington Avenue in South Philadelphia. The loading dock and sales floor are clean, bright, and kept at a crisp 50 degrees, while Teamsters move produce to and from refrigerated warehousing.
After years of working together successfully, the union and individual employers were able to find common ground on the latest master agreement.
“This contract is fair for both sides. The people that work here—we couldn’t do it without them,” said John DiFeliciantonio, owner of North American Produce. Every Teamster at the center knows that comparing their benefits to those of nonunion workers is like comparing, well, apples to oranges.
“I love the health care. We don’t pay into it and we’re one of the few that don’t have to. Ninety-nine percent of companies now, you have to pay into health care,” said Sherman Ellis, a 30-year member.
Not surprisingly, due to the strong wages, benefits and protections guaranteed by their Teamster contract, the members are happy, and thus, turnover is low.
Ellis raves about being a Teamster, as he lifts and moves boxes of cabbage, not missing a beat.
“Let’s go union! I love 929. I love being a Teamster. It’s been very beneficial to me,” Ellis said, smiling brightly. “I rock with Rocky; he’s always been there for us.”