Teamsters

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Teamsters protest Sprouts Farmers Market in Bakersfield, Calif.

Protesting Sprouts in Bakersfield, Calif.

Teamsters protested Sprouts Farmers Market at its Bakersfield, Calif., grand opening yesterday because the company is supplied by UNFI, which violates health codes and abuses communities and workers.

Teamsters were joined at the protest by grocery distribution workers and community leaders. They distributed balloons and leaflets that read, “Sprouts: Unhealthy for our Community,” and fly swatters that read, “Shop & Swat at Sprouts.”

Marc Moran, an organizer at Teamsters Joint Council 42 in Pomona, Calif., said:

UNFI and Sprouts both claim to be values-driven organizations. 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.

UNFI has $6 billion in revenue and is America’s largest organic and natural foods wholesaler. Sprouts Farmers Market was taken public by private equity firm Apollo Global Management, which is still a major direct holder of Sprouts.

In Moreno Valley, Calif., UNFI broke federal laws that protect workers’ rights when it intimidated, threatened and fired workers. In November 2014, the federal government certified the Teamsters Union as the drivers’ union in Moreno Valley after UNFI managed to delay the ballot counting for over a year on a technicality. Yet, UNFI still refuses to recognize the workers’ union.

Another view of the protest against Sprouts.

Steve Vairma, Teamsters Warehouse Division Director, said:

It’s time for UNFI to stop the bullying and stop the intimidation. 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.

Randy Korgan, Organizing Director for Teamsters Local 63 in Covina, Calif., described how UNFI intimidates workers:

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. 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 has seen property taxes rise.

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.