Grocery store truck drivers strike, deliveries halted

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AUBURN, Wash. —

Grocery store delivery drivers put down their truck keys and picked up picket signs,  citing a wage gap and unfair labor practices.

 

Drivers and warehouse workers said the strike is going to affect some major stores.     

 

 Monday night, dozens of workers, who deliver tens of thousands of items seen on grocery store shelves, stopped working and hit the picket lines.

 

Many workers spoke with KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Gary Horcher.

 

"I have a family. I have three kids. You know what I'm saying?  (They're ages) 7, 5 and 2," said warehouse worker Dante Cobb.


Cobb, like many members of  Teamsters Local 117 on strike, said they're being treated unfairly by Auburn's United Natural Foods, Inc.  

 

The company stocks natural and organic grocery products at Fred Meyer, Whole Foods, Safeway, PCC, Costco and a variety of co-ops and independent markets.  UNFI supplies brands that include Clif Bars, Boca, Kashi products, Meyer’s cleaning products, LaraBar, Brown Cow, Amy’s, Bob’s Red Mill and Sambazon.

 

While the union represents 166 workers at UNFI, only 46 are grocery truck drivers and the rest are warehouse workers.

 

 Workers said the stores and their shoppers will feel the impact soon, but the impact depends on how long the strike lasts and how much backstock stores have on hand.

 

The Tacoma Food Co-op said more than half their groceries are delivered by UNFI and they don't have room for much backstock.

 

"We rely on those deliveries.  We don't have a lot of backstock area and so every delivery is important," said store manager Henri Parren.

 

Workers tell KIRO 7  that shoppers may notice fewer of the items they buy every day but want shoppers to understand why they're striking as many people hit the stores before the holidays.

 

 "These folks make 25 percent less than the rest of the industry in total wages and compensation, and this company is experiencing record profits in the billions," said Teamsters Local 117 spokeswoman Brenda Wiest.

 

But the wage gap is only one issue.  The union says UNFI is engaging in dozens of unfair labor practices, such as reassigning workers to other jobs without collective bargaining.  An investigation is in progress with the National Labor Relations Board.

 

Teamsters officials told KIRO 7 that during the past few months, UNFI hired about 40 non-union workers in preparation for a strike and claimed there has been intimidation to sign a deal, and that fences, surveillance cameras and security guards were added without the required bargaining.

 

UNFI calls the allegations entirely baseless and without merit, saying its latest offer is fair, reasonable and competitive.    UNFI  released a statement regarding the strike Tuesday morning.