More than 200 union members in Arizona employed by US Foods declared an unfair labor practice strike last night as negotiations for a new contract with one of the nation's largest food service providers has been stalled for months.
Members of the Teamsters Local 104 Union have been working without a contract since October 2015. The union's negotiating committee and US Foods tried to come up with an agreement throughout the summer. As the last contract reached its expiration date, the Teamsters "overwhelmingly" rejected US Foods' "best final offer," says Kevin Thomas, member of the Teamsters' negotiating committee.
"We had some additional days to negotiate, and there was no movement. We are trying to explain to the company that working without a contract is not benefiting the members. These folks have families, they are part of our community. You can't go on with your life without some type of job security as far as health benefits...pension...[and] wages," he says.
According to the Teamsters, US Foods negotiated in "bad faith" and discriminates against workers affiliated with unions. US Foods is currently under investigation with the National Labor Relations Board for violations of federal labor law, such as disciplining union workers and refusing to hire union members, the Teamsters say.
Thomas wasn't able to provide specifics on the contract that was on the table, and the exact reasons the Teamsters rejected US Foods' final offer. "I don't want to negotiate through the media," he says.
On Friday morning, no more than 10 Teamsters who work at a US Foods facility on East 18th Street and Euclid Avenue picketed outside. Another picket line is set up in Phoenix. They represent warehouse workers, drivers and mechanics.
“We’re disappointed that our represented employees at our Phoenix Distribution Center have chosen to take these actions, despite our ongoing efforts to work with the union to reach an agreement," says a prepared statement from US Foods. "Our priority right now is on ensuring that we can continue to serve our customers with minimal disruption. We remain open to having productive negotiations with the union to reach resolution in this issue.”
In mid-September of last year, more than 500 Teamsters working for Sun Tran ended a strike that lasted 42 days. Could the US Food strike drag on for that long?
"Anything is possible. We definitely do not want that. It is not our intention to strike for months on end if you will. We are hoping to come to a resolution, where we can at least get back to the negotiating room, and we can actually have some good dialogue [to] produce a fair contract for the employees," Thomas says. "It is a win-win for the company, a win-win for the employees and for the customers, who are affected by this."
But Lupe Rosales, an employee of US Foods for 21 years, says no one wins in a situation like this. He stood near the picket line, but says he was only there because it was his day off. He is giving the union and company three days to find a middle ground, or he'll go back to work.
"I come here every day to do my job and take responsibility for my actions," he says. He's also a union member, but says he is on no one's side. "The lawyers involved are the ones who are blocking everything. They want to have the power, as do the union leaders, wanting to implement what they believe is right," and the employees are stuck in the middle, Rosales says.
Because this is an unfair labor practice, US Foods cannot replace any of the strikers. The employees picketing do not get paid for the days they strike, either.