UNFI can afford to pay us

Steve Leigh reports on ongoing support for striking workers at United Natural Foods Inc.

UNFI workers on the picket linesUNFI workers on the picket lines

A STRIKE at United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) in Auburn, Wash., continued into its fourth week with rising community support.

UNFI illegally fired 72 workers on December 13 after an unfair labor practices strike by members of Teamsters Local 117, even though workers had agreed to an unconditional return to work. In order to show their solidarity against the firings, all the workers went out on strike again.

The union has filed 50 unfair labor practice charges against the company for harassment, surveillance and changing conditions without notifying the union. The other issue is wages--UNFI pays 25 percent below grocery industry standards.

The company is pleading poverty, but strikers aren't buying it. As one striker said on Christmas Eve:

If they don't have the money to pay fair wages, how can they pay for all this strikebreaking? Look at these new fences, the extra security guards, the van rentals and hotel rooms to house the scabs. They're flying people in from D.C. and other places to take our jobs--people who work for other branches of their company. They're even delivering food to the scabs, which is more than they ever did for us.

They began the preparations four months ago. They're paying the security guards $22 an hour--a lot more than they pay us. They're spending more on fighting our strike than what we asked for to start with. They just don't want to make a good offer. They can afford it!

The strikers returned to the issue that caused the strike: solidarity. "This is a union," said one worker. "We stand for each other. It wasn't fair for 72 workers to be fired. We had to strike to defend all our union members."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THIS OUTRAGEOUS attack by UNFI has provoked lots of community support. On December 19, more than 100 strikers and supporters from many unions rallied at a Whole Foods Store in Seattle. Whole Foods is one of the largest UNFI customers in the area and is non-union.

Union members and union staff from other Teamster locals, the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers and other unions gathered to let customers know about the strike.

What you can do

You can donate to help the workers on strike via PayPal by contributing to the UNFI Workers Support Fund.

Find out more about the struggle at the UNFI Driven By Greed website.

"UNFI needs to realize that this is a union state," Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson told the crowd, pledging the support of the union movement. "This is not Mississippi or Alabama. Union-busting will not fly here!"

Union members who work at grocery stores are also showing solidarity. In some cases, workers have refused to unload UNFI trucks, which forced the trucks to leave. In other cases, they have engaged in slowdowns. When out-of-town scab drivers ask union drivers from other companies for directions, they're often sent on wild goose chases, sometimes for as much as 50 miles.

Several co-ops, who are some of the biggest customers of UNFI goods, have issued statements supporting the strike. On December 27, according to the union website, the Olympia Food Co-op announced that it would refuse to take orders from UNFI for the following week.

The Central Co-op and Puget Sound Consumers Co-op (PCC) have also been supportive. The PCC statement says it stands behind the right of workers to " freely engage in collective bargaining, the right to equitable pay, fair benefits and safe working conditions." It urges UNFI to " bargain in good faith" with the workers. Finally, PCC is "exploring other long-term options" rather than continuing to accept UNFI deliveries.

Besides walking the picket line, the union is calling on supporters to boycott UNFI products, donate to the strike fund, pressure UNFI and urge stores not to carry their products. Visit the union campaign website for more information.

The strikers are extremely grateful for all the support they have received. "Thank you to all who have supported us--our union, other unions, and community groups who have brought food to the picket line," said one striker. "We really appreciate the support of our families, who are behind us all the way. If you want to support us, come out and walk the picket line with us."