Teamster drivers and warehouse workers at an Albertsons Cos. grocery distribution center just outside of Phoenix have voted by 98% in support of a strike to protest what the union characterizes as the company’s failure to respond to workers’ COVID-19 safety concerns, in violation of federal labor laws. The approximately 900,000-square-foot facility services about 175 Albertsons, Safeway and Vons grocery stores in Arizona; New Mexico; southern Utah; Las Vegas; and El Paso, Texas.
Teamsters Local 104 represents more than 700 drivers and warehouse workers at the distribution center. The warehouse workers allege that Albertsons isn’t complying with such COVID-19 safety guidelines as providing drivers with personal protective equipment, including face masks and hand sanitizer, and won’t address workers’ concerns regarding social distancing in the facility.
“Albertsons is raking in record profits during the pandemic, while its front-line workers are putting themselves and their families at risk,” noted Russell Medigovich, a business agent at Phoenix-based Teamsters Local 104. “It’s outrageous that these workers are being forced to supply their own personal protective equipment and being crowded in on top of each other in Albertsons’ warehouse.”
The workers’ collective bargaining agreement with Albertsons will expire at midnight on Feb. 27, enabling drivers and warehouse workers to take part in such labor actions as strikes and work stoppages. Striking was described as “a last resort” by Teamsters Local 104 Secretary-Treasurer Karla Schumann.
When contacted by Progressive Grocer, Albertsons replied: “We value all our outstanding front-line associates who work at our distribution centers, manufacturing plants and stores, especially during these challenging times. While we are disappointed that a strike vote was taken, we remain committed to bargaining an agreement with Teamsters Local 104 that rewards our team at the Tolleson Distribution Center.”
Elsewhere across Albertsons’ national distribution system Teamsters drivers at an Albertsons distribution center near Dallas participated in a public protest last month to demand that the grocer provide information to union representatives about the company’s efforts to comply with CDC COVID-19 safety guidelines and the recommendations of public-health experts. Meanwhile, in Chicago, 900 Teamsters distribution workers and drivers are in contract negotiations with Albertsons' Jewel-Osco subsidiary, ahead of the contract’s expiration on March 6.
“While our members have been putting their lives at risk during the pandemic, Albertsons' revenue increased by almost $7 billion in 2020,” said Steve Vairma, Teamsters warehouse division director and international VP. “If Albertsons doesn’t stop putting our members at risk and violating federal labor laws in the process, we have over 11,000 Teamsters across the country that are ready to take on that fight.”
Last November, in response to rising cases of COVID-19 in Colorado and Wyoming, Albertsons and its Safeway banner teamed with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 to ask grocery store customers in those states to wear masks when they go shopping. In accordance with CDC guidelines, the Safeway and Albertsons stores put in place health and safety protocols, including the requirement that associates wear masks, rigorous cleaning schedules, plexiglass barriers at checkout, and a zero-touch checkout experience with contactless pay through store apps.
Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons operates 2,252 retail stores with 1,725 pharmacies, 398 associated fuel centers, 22 dedicated distribution centers and 20 manufacturing facilities. The company’s stores predominantly operate under the banners Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Carrs, Jewel-Osco, Acme, Shaw’s, Star Market, United Supermarkets, Market Street and Haggen. The company is No. 8 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2020 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.