Workers, Labor Rights Experts, Consumers, Retailers Report Operational and Reputational Risks Ahead of Annual Shareholders Meeting
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters held a conference call for United Natural Foods Inc. [NASDAQ: UNFI] investors and analysts to report on the unsustainable labor practices and other issues that are jeopardizing the company's operations.
Yesterday's conference call highlighted an escalating labor dispute in the greater Seattle area, which has erupted into an unfair labor practices strike.
"UNFI management is risking its business across the country by provoking its workers into an unfair labor practices strike," said Steve Vairma, International Vice President and National Warehouse Division Director of the Teamsters Union, which represents more than 125,000 grocery distribution workers. "The Teamsters will be notifying customers nationwide regarding UNFI's abuses."
The call featured presentations from local and national Teamster leaders, UNFI workers, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Organic Consumers Association and retail representatives from Bellingham Public Market/Terra Organica and the Olympia Food Co-operative.
"UNFI's morals and values have changed for the worse," said Robert Jurey, a 13-year UNFI warehouse worker in Auburn, Wash., and member of Teamsters Local 117. "The company's profits are made on the backs of me and my co-workers, but in return, management threatens us, intimidates us and will not pay us fairly."
"UNFI management has a total disregard for workers' rights," said Tracey Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. "After filing more than 50 charges of workers' rights violations, the workers have had enough and have made the courageous decision to withhold their labor."
UNFI is the leading U.S. wholesale distributor to the natural and organic industry. UNFI's single largest customer is Whole Foods Market, the nation's largest organic and natural foods chain. Whole Foods accounted for 36 percent of net sales in 2011. Other UNFI customers include the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) and large supermarket chains such as Safeway.
Stephen Trinkhaus, owner of Bellingham, Wash. based organic food retailer Terra Organica, noted that after investigating the Auburn workers' claims of workers' rights violations, he "stands firmly on the side of the union workers." Trinkhaus noted that UNFI has negatively affected his business by dropping top selling products that his store carries in favor of meeting demands of Whole Foods and other large chain stores.
Jayne Rossman of the Olympia Food Cooperative added that UNFI has jeopardized the 20,000 members of the cooperative's ethical mission, stating "with UNFI's increased sales and profits, there is no excuse to treat the workers who supply the cooperative so unjustly."
Jeremy Blasi, an investigator for the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) who conducted the organization's investigatory report "Freedom of Association at United Natural Foods Inc." (http://laborrights.org/freedom-at-work/resources/report-on-freedom-of-association-at-united-natural-foods-inc), described in detail the company's serious violations of international labor rights including threats, intimidation and discrimination at both a warehouse in California where workers attempted to form a union as well as a union-represented Auburn, Wash., facility.
Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the 800,000-member Organic Consumers Association, said, "Our members are outraged by UNFI's behavior and if progress is not made by Thursday, the association will call for a boycott of UNFI."
Founded in 1903, the Teamsters Union represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @TeamsterPower and "like" us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.
SOURCE International Brotherhood of Teamsters