Wholesaler United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) has hammered out new long-term labor agreements with drivers at its Hudson Valley distribution center in Montgomery, New York, and front-line workers at its distribution centers in Commerce, Stockton and Santa Fe Springs, California. UNFI employees in the Hudson Valley are represented by Teamsters Local 445, and those in Southern California are represented by Teamsters Locals 495, 630, 848 and 439.
According to UNFI, the new contracts contain compromises and language updates that will enable the company to better meet its customers’ expectations while providing associates with competitive wages, strong benefits, and safety and risk management support amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re pleased to fortify our distribution network and strengthen the nation’s food supply chain ahead of the busy holiday season and winter months,” said UNFI COO Eric Dorne. “Our new long-term labor agreements in the Hudson Valley and Southern California put us on strong footing in the near term and provide us with valuable flexibility to best serve our customers over the long term. These are the foundational elements of the exceptional customer service we intend to deliver across the Pacific and Northeast regions in the years ahead. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of our associates, partners and customers throughout the country for their collaboration and confidence amidst the pandemic.”
“UNFI is focused on reaching equitable, modern labor agreements that balance the best interests of all of our stakeholders,” noted Jill Sutton, UNFI’s chief legal officer and head of the labor relations team. “We’re committed to obtaining fair terms that will help us remain adaptable, nimble and well positioned to serve our customers in the highly competitive and evolving food distribution environment. Our new contracts with Teamsters locals in New York and California include important language updates designed to enhance UNFI’s long-term operational flexibility. We have now ratified approximately 15 labor agreements over the past 24 months and look forward to building on this momentum.”
In the realm of health and safety, Sutton noted: “We’ve made the necessary investments at our 59 distribution centers to provide industry-leading pandemic safety support, including enhanced cleanings, hygiene supplies, temperature checks, ample protective gear, and regulation-compliant and socially distant workplaces. These procedures and protocols have repeatedly received high marks from our union associates and their leaders. UNFI will continue to take these types of proactive steps and enhance our protocols accordingly as CDC guidance evolves. We’ve complied with all governmental guidance throughout the pandemic’s entire life cycle and will remain vigilant to keep our associates safe as we deliver on our promise of keeping the supply chain flowing.”
The unions, however, saw the situation somewhat differently.
“Our members stood together in solidarity and were able to win substantial pay increases over the life of the contract and a quicker rise to top pay. But you cannot put a price on health and safety,” noted Dan Maldonado, president of Rock Tavern, New York-based Teamsters Local 445, which last week authorized a strike over what it said were violations of federal labor law and UNFI’s failure to provide sufficient COVID-19 protections. “The Teamsters continue to demand that UNFI comply fully with state and CDC regulations on social distancing, provision of PPE, [and] cleaning and sanitization of equipment like our trucks after each shift. We hope we can sign a letter of agreement with the company that will bring them up to par.”
UNFI employs more than 21,000 associates.
Providence, Rhode Island-based UNFI delivers a wide variety of products to customer locations throughout North America, including natural product superstores, independent retailers, conventional supermarket chains, e-commerce retailers and foodservice customers. The largest publicly traded grocery distributor in America, the company is No. 61 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s list of the top food retailers in North America