More than 700 workers at United Natural Foods Inc.’s distribution center in Hopkins walked off the job Tuesday, in sympathy with workers who are striking against the company at a similar facility in Indiana.
The move by members of the Teamsters Local 120, if prolonged, will disrupt supplies to dozens of grocery stores in the Twin Cities, including the region’s largest grocery chain, Cub Foods, which is also owned by United Natural Foods.
Other area groceries that rely on UNFI for most of their products include Lunds & Byerlys, Jerry’s, Kowalski’s and Coborn’s.
“UNFI remains well-positioned to continue meeting our customer needs across the Twin Cities and throughout the Midwest,” the company said in a statement.
About 160 workers at UNFI’s distribution center in Fort Wayne, Ind., went on strike Thursday, about three months after their contract expired. The Teamsters extended the strike on Tuesday to a location in Green Bay, Wis., and the one in Hopkins, which is one of the largest food distribution centers in Minnesota.
Put together, about 1,000 people are now on strike at the three UNFI sites.
“The issue isn’t about money, wages, retirement or health benefits,” said Tom Erickson, president of Teamsters Local 120. “Our members are honoring the picket line dispute from Local 414 [in Indiana]. It’s about the subcontracting of workers, redesigning the management rights clause and not honoring seniority.”
In its statement, UNFI said it was disappointed that Local 120 “decided to initiate an illegal labor disruption at our Hopkins distribution center in support of the illegal strike in Fort Wayne.”
It noted that local workers are under a four-year contract that is still active. UNFI said it is implementing contingency plans to keep the distribution centers in Hopkins, Green Bay and Fort Wayne in operation.
UNFI acquired the distribution centers in its $2.9 billion purchase of Eden Prairie-based Supervalu Inc. last year. Since then, the company and Teamsters have squared off over new contracts at several former Supervalu warehouses.
The Teamsters said they will oppose executive compensation-related proposals at UNFI’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday.
“It’s reckless for Teamsters leadership to expose UNFI’s valued associates to unnecessary uncertainty and instability around the holidays because of its misguided efforts to support an illegal strike in Fort Wayne and further timed to coincide with our annual shareholders meeting tomorrow,” the company said.
Local 414 Secretary-Treasurer George Gerdes said that UNFI has been in contact with the union and that the sides are trying to set up dates for negotiation.
UNFI shares are down about 65% since the deal closed in late October 2018.
More than half of the deal’s value was in the form of long-term Supervalu debt that UNFI assumed and refinanced. Meanwhile, UNFI has struggled to sell Supervalu’s retail units, including Cub, and reorient the business entirely around wholesale operations.