Warehouse Workers in California Join Local 166, Seattle Workers Ratify Contract
After a five-year battle to form a union, 280 warehouse workers at the largest organic and natural food supplier in the United States, United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), have voted to join Local 166 in Bloomington, Calif.
Drivers and warehouse workers at UNFI in Seattle, meanwhile, ratified a contract by an overwhelming majority in late June.
“Company efforts to avoid union representation were overcome by workers determined to have a voice in their work life and fair treatment on the job,” said Mike Bergen, Local 166 Secretary-Treasurer. “The workers at UNFI in Moreno Valley have finally received the justice and victory they deserve. We will work hard with these newest Teamsters to win a strong contract that addresses their problems.”
The election took place earlier this year. This victory is part of a wave of victories for workers at UNFI, including contracts for drivers in Dayville, Conn. Represented by Local 493 and drivers in Moreno Valley represented by Local 63. Additionally, workers in Montgomery, N.Y., represented by Local 443, ratified a first contract which includes overtime pay for the first time and increased wages.
Local 166 joins the expanding network of Teamster brothers and sisters negotiating a labor contract with UNFI. Teamster contracts are also expiring this year for warehouse and production workers in Iowa at Local 238 and New Jersey at Local 810.
Alex Martinez, a warehouse worker in Moreno Valley, said workers have been subjected to years of intimidation and threats from management.
“Everybody’s happy that we formed our union with the Teamsters,” Martinez said. “Now we have a voice on the job and we are no longer at-will employees. The company needs cause to fire us.”
Being represented by Local 166 is a huge difference after years of having no representation, Martinez said.
“If we now get called into a manager’s office, we can have a union representative accompany us,” said Martinez, who helped spearhead the union drive five years ago.
“The company has instituted an unfair work-quota system and now, as Teamsters, we hope to make that system fair,” he said.
Other UNFI workers are also seeing more fairness in the workplace. As a result of Moreno Valley drivers organizing with Local 63, and securing overtime pay in their labor contract, UNFI has begun offering overtime pay for drivers across several locations in its network.
The Moreno Valley Distribution Center distributes to Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, Northgate, Vons, Ralphs and other food retailers in Southern California and the American Southwest.
UNFI is Whole Foods Market’s primary distributor and its strategic partner; it is seeking to diversify its customers and product offerings.
In mid-June, Amazon.com announced plans to buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. The impact from the sale will affect UNFI, but it is still too early to see what changes may occur.
In Seattle, a group of about 160 drivers and warehouse workers who are members of Local 117 ratified a four-year contract that moves the workers into a pension plan and provides substantial wage increases.
The contract also limits subcontracting, makes the overtime system fairer and improves vacation policies.