AUBURN, Wash. -- Union drivers and warehouse workers in Auburn, Wash., who had voted to return to work after a two-day strike against United Natural Foods Inc. say their strike is back on after they learned that the company is permanently replacing some warehouse workers.
“We are going to stay out here to let the bosses know we’re here,” said Steve Hosterman, one of the 163 UNFI workers who are back on the picket lines.
Workers said they thought they had negotiated a fair contract with UNFI, but when they returned to work after the strike, they were told the company was replacing 72 warehouse workers on the night shift.
"UNFI is refusing to uphold its side of the agreement. We committed to take down the picket lines and UNFI pledged to accept our offer to return to work. Now they are telling us that 72 workers are out of a job right before the holidays. It's a disgrace," said Robert Jurey, a 13-year warehouse worker with UNFI.
Teamsters Local 117 filed new unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board over the permanent replacement issue.
"UNFI misrepresented its position regarding its workers' good-faith offer to return to work. The company's action to replace its employees is retaliatory, unlawful and frankly despicable," said Tracey A. Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117.
Meanwhile, UNFI expressed "disappointment" over the union's decision to stay out on strike.
“The Union was well aware that a strike at the busiest time of the year would leave UNFI no choice but to hire replacement associates so we could continue to serve our customers,” Sean Griffin, UNFI Group President, said in a released statement. “Yet the Union chose to put its own interests over the interests of its membership and ordered a strike. The Union has continued to mischaracterize UNFI by falsely blaming the company for the consequences of theirdecision.”
There were no plans to return to negotiations Friday.
UNFI distributes organic food products to stores like Whole Foods, Safeway and PCC. Although the stores say they will be unaffected by the strike, the impact has yet to be seen in smaller stores.
The Associated Press contributed to this report