Friday, June 21, 2024

Teamsters on strike at 2 Sysco sites; separately, voted out at Seneca warehouse   

Teamsters drivers at two facilities of food distributor Sysco have gone on strike, the second time in the last six to seven months that the company has faced a walkout from members of the union.

And in the give-and-take of the fight over union representation, the Teamsters also has been voted out of representation at a food warehouse in Wisconsin.

The two developments are unrelated. But both involve Teamsters, both involve food-related facilities and together suggest that even as the Teamsters can still marshal its forces in some places, in other places it has taken a hit.

The Sysco (NYSE: SYY) strike is at facilities in Louisville, Kentucky, and Indianapolis. The walkouts there began March 27, though the two unions are in different positions.  Most of the striking workers are drivers but there also are warehouse workers as well.

In Louisville, according to a spokesman, Local 89 was organized in August following a vote by the employees there to be represented by the union. The union is seeking to negotiate an initial contract for the Sysco workers, according to a union spokesman.

In Indianapolis, Teamsters Local 135 went on strike after negotiations for a new contract failed to produce a deal. The spokesman said that contract expired March 3. 

The parallel strikes are reminiscent of dual walkouts at Sysco in October, when workers in Syracuse, New York, and in suburban Boston simultaneously went on strike before a settlement was reached. 

Within the Teamsters, the approach is known as “coordinated bargaining.” “Our workers are more united than ever so they’ve all been supporting one another.,” according to a Teamsters spokesman.

That support of other workers led to what are known as extended picket lines, in which workers who are on strike travel to other Sysco facilities and set up picket lines at those other locations, with the hope that fellow Teamsters might not cross those lines and grow the pressure on the company.

Those extended picket lines were set up at Sysco facilities in Southern California and Seattle. A spokeswoman for Sysco said it considered the extended picket lines to be illegal, but the point for now is moot; she said they had been taken down in Southern California after a few days, and the Seattle line was taken down late Monday.

The Teamsters said the number of workers represented by the two locals totals 300 and that the size of the workforce in Indianapolis is 160. But the Teamsters also made the claim that by counting workers at the facilities with extended picket lines, the walkout extended to 1,000 workers, though the Sysco spokeswoman said there was no widespread walkout beyond Louisville and Indianapolis.

Issues at the two facilities, according to the Teamsters spokesman, were wages, health care, excessive overtime, “harassment” and “unreasonable work rules.”

The Sysco spokeswoman said the company’s “previous offers in both locations included top of industry wages and improvements in health insurance and benefits.” 

In Louisville, following the August election when workers chose to be represented by the Teamsters, Sysco “management has failed to bargain in good faith for the 100 delivery drivers,” according to the Teamsters spokesman.

Meanwhile, at Seneca Foods’ warehouse in Oakfield, Wisconsin, Teamsters who were operating under a five-year contract that ran through May 2025 have decertified the union. The vote covered 28 eligible workers. 

That effort, like several other decertification attempts, was led in part by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. That organization provided legal support at a recent Home Depot-affiiated vote in California and at three other California facilities in 2021.  

However, the Seneca Foods vote was notable in that the workers there were operating under a contract. In many of the other decertification votes in which the National Right to Work Foundation gets involved, workers had voted to affiliate with the Teamsters but a contract was never negotiated. The vote to decertify would often come with the union and its supporters saying the company sabotaged the unionization efforts.

The Teamsters have scored some recent organization victories in just the last month. Workers, mostly drivers, voted to be represented by the Teamsters at trash hauler Republic Services in Arizona. In Erlanger, Kentucky, where a union was voted in in 2022, workers at Coca-Cola Consolidated, a large distributor for the company, approved a contract after what it said was more than a year of negotiations. 

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