About 120 truck drivers for distributor United Natural Foods (UNFI), who deliver goods to such retailers as Whole Foods Market and Stop & Shop in the New York metropolitan area, are gearing up for a strike, according to a published report. The drivers, who are members of Rock Tavern, New York-based Teamsters Local 445, claim that UNFI has failed to comply with the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines to prevent infection with the virus.
Union members claim that UNFI hasn’t provided them with masks and hand sanitizer, and hasn’t disinfected their trucks, in months, the New York Post reported. The union’s contract ended on Oct. 31, and members voted to authorize a strike the following day, although they haven’t yet done so. One driver told the Post that drivers have been buying their own supplies and cleaning their own trucks.
UNFI spokesman Jeff Swanson countered in a statement that the union was “disseminating falsehoods and shamelessly exploiting the pandemic in an effort to try gaining negotiating leverage.” Swanson added that the distributor has “robust contingency plans” with third-party distributors if a strike occurs. He also asserted that the company has always adhered to CDC guidelines in relation to the virus.
Contract negotiations have not yet borne fruit, although a federal mediator was brought in on Nov. 1, Local 445 President Dan Maldonado told the newspaper, adding along with safety concerns, drivers were angry that they were being asked to work more 10-hour days. Supply chains are still experiencing shortages and delays amid the pandemic.
“We presented a long-term contract offer this week that includes annual wage increases, highly-competitive benefits and strong work flexibility aligned with the rest of our network,” UNFI said in a statement.
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, Progressive Grocer's list of the top food retailers in North America. Owned by Amazon, itself No. 2 on PG's list, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods is No. 24, while Quincy, Massachusetts-based Stop & Shop's parent company, Ahold Delhaize USA, is No. 11.