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Sarasota truckers vote unanimously to join Teamsters union

Written by on Thursday, May 9, 2024

First order of bargaining: Save their jobs from outsourcing.


By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: May 8, 2024

Host: United Natural Foods is the main wholesale supplier of the Amazon-owned Whole Foods chain. This weekend in Sarasota, truck drivers for the food distributor, known under its acronym UNFI, voted to join the Teamsters union. The truckers did so in impressive fashion: unanimously, 75 to zero. The probable reason behind this clear vote: The company recently announced it will get rid of them. All of them. Our news team has the details.

Johannes Werner: Patricia Morris is one of 79 UNFI truck drivers at the Sarasota distribution center. She explains how their efforts to unionize morphed since March, when their employer announced an outsourcing agreement with logistics company JB Hunt.

Patricia Morris: We started this a while back, to get the union in — just for fair wages, safety and just better work atmosphere, and then it ended up becoming saving our jobs because they, in the middle of us trying to form this union, they decided to let us all go and go to a third party. So it ended up being about saving our jobs.

JW: The truckers in Sarasota will fight for their jobs, because for most of them, an end of the job will mean the end of living in this costly city.

 PM: Honestly, that’s our main hope, just to be able to wake up and know that we have a job to go to. So that was our main focus at the end. You know, we have 79 drivers, and you put 79 drivers in this area out looking for jobs, it wouldn’t be good. There’s not enough jobs, you know, truck driving jobs that pay well in this area. We would have to probably go a lot further, maybe Fort Myers or Tampa, or driving to get a decent paying job. So we’re just hoping to honestly just to be able to go to work every day and do our jobs.

JW: There are two types of routes, Morris explains.

UNFI truckers in Sarasota celebrate their victory.

PM: Whole Foods – those are the guys that work nights. They start between 1 in the afternoon all the way up until like 6 at night, and then they drive overnight loads. So they’re working all through the night, and they’re going to Miami, or the Panhandle, and they’re doing all the Whole Foods. And usually it’s like one stop, one to two stops per load. Sometimes you’ll have two on there. And then, we also have the morning shift where they’re called retail. And those are all your little mom-and-pop stores, you know, your little restaurants that get organic, because we do deliver organic food. So we have a lot of retail stores, and they’ll get between five to 15. Some of them have to spend the night in a hotel to finish their run the next day, if they’re further away. So yeah, so that’s what we do. We distribute organic food.

JW: The problems piled up before the outsourcing announcement.

 PM: Cost of living — well, you live in Sarasota. You know everything has gone up. It’s not just rent or in my case mortgage. That alone is outrageous. Back when I started, our pay was okay, from where we were, and then after COVID and then everything else, prices just skyrocketed for me. And I think our wages should follow that, and they haven’t. Favoritism: You know, certain drivers getting favoritism towards other drivers, your seniority, wages, we don’t think we’re being paid fairly for the job that we put out. The unsafe loads, how they’re, they’re coming out in steps, it’s just some of the loads are just very, they’re huge, and you kind of have to jump on the pallet jack to get it all out, because it’s just been overloaded. And so that’s the main reasons why we started it.

 JW: So what are Patricia Morris’ hopes for the bargaining that’s to begin soon?

PM: We both have to, you know, we’re going to tell them what our concerns are. About the favoritism in the office and about our fair wages we should be paid, and about safety, because we all want to come home at the end of the day, not hurt, you know. And so, yes, so we’re gonna go to the table and hopefully we can both agree on a contract.

 JW: Two other UNFI locations – one in Pompano Beach, and one in Pennsylvania – are about to vote to be represented by the Teamsters. In both locations, UNFI has announced it will outsource trucking to logistics company JB Hunt as well.

What if UNFI decides to cut those trucking jobs in Sarasota anyway?

Jeff Testa is a trustee and deputy director of organizing at Teamsters Local 79 in Tampa. He said that the National Labor Relations Board will certify this unanimous vote, and UNFI will have to recognize it. If they decide to fire those truckers, Testa told WSLR News, they would be breaking the law. If they do it anyway, the Teamsters would mobilize UNFI truckers elsewhere that are already unionized.

Which, in translation, sounds pretty much like strike.

Asked for comment, a UNFI spokesperson said this:

“Where our associates are represented, UNFI maintains constructive relationships with those unions, and we bargain with our union partners in good faith to reach agreements that are fair to both sides.  In these agreements, we address wages and benefits, other terms and conditions of employment, and the need for operating flexibility to satisfy customer demands regarding the delivery of our products.”

In Sarasota, UNFI is currently working out of an aging facility on McIntosh Road, near Clark. Last August, the company broke ground on a million-square foot warehouse and distribution center at the SRQ Logistics Center next to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

Fork lift operators, selectors, loaders, receivers and inventory workers at the Sarasota warehouse are not included in the Teamsters representation.

Reporting from Sarasota, this has been Johannes Werner for WSLR News.

 

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.