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12/17/2020

Teamsters Launch Campaign Against UNFI Exec Compensation

Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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Teamsters Launch Campaign Against UNFI Exec Compensation
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents more than 5,000 UNFI employees.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) has rolled out a Vote No campaign against executive pay practices at distributor United Natural Foods (UNFI), urging the company’s shareholders to vote against the company’s Say-on-Pay proposal and equity plan. 

“With UNFI’s CEO, Steven Spinner, eligible for $8.5 million cash severance (two times base salary, plus bonus) when he voluntarily retires in July and benefiting from a low-balled performance target in his 2020 annual bonus, it is clear that UNFI has doubled down on overpaying for a disastrous tenure as CEO,” the Teamsters said. “In addition to the golden-parachute payout, typically not afforded for retirement, Spinner benefited from a 140% bonus payout ($2.5 million), driven by a low-balled 2020 performance target and the unforeseen pandemic-related boost to its business.”

In a letter to shareholders, the Washington, D.C.-based union, which represents more than 5,000 UNFI employees, noted that “[a] similarly generous agreement was entered into with COO Sean Griffin. Griffin, who announced his intention to retire in July 2020, was deemed eligible to receive a severance payout (equal to his annual base salary plus annual bonus) if he performed three months of on-demand consulting, to not exceed eight hours a week. Like Spinner, all outstanding time-vesting equity awards will be accelerated.” 

In both of these cases, the letter notes, “the company continues to run a costly compensation program that is out of synch with performance and which fails to hold management accountable for the company’s long-run performance failures.”  

The letter concluded, “While there is no question that UNFI’s performance has picked up over the past year due to the pandemic, the company’s compensation practices fail to hold management accountable for the challenges facing the company.”

The Vote No campaign follows a backlash last year to its executive pay practices, with UNFI’s Say-on-Pay proposal receiving 27% opposition from shareholders and the company’s proposed equity compensation plan almost being defeated.

At press time, UNFI had not yet responded to a request for comment from Progressive Grocer.

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, PG's list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

In other labor news, the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association, has advocated for retail workers to be included among the groups designated for early vaccination against COVID-19. 

“Retailers have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic protecting associates, serving customers and keeping the communities in which they live and work safe and healthy,” noted Matthew Shay, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based NRF. “The industry invested billions of dollars to provide protective gear and trainings for their associates and to make the necessary changes to achieve and exceed health and safety recommendations made in municipal, state and federal guidelines.”

Added Shay: “It is critically important those working in our nation’s stores, distribution centers, warehouses and throughout the retail ecosystem are among the early recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine. The retail industry directly employs 32 million Americans, and we cannot lose sight of the importance of keeping them and the consumers they serve safe from this deadly disease.”

The association has submitted a letter on the matter to Dr. José R. Romero, chair of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the CDC, in Atlanta.