July 23, 2010: The National Teamsters Hispanic Caucus passed a key resolution at its annual conference last week, committing to fight the exploitive business practices by online grocer FreshDirect as its workers seek union representation.
FreshDirect has been at the center of controversy surrounding its warehouse in Queens, N.Y., for more than three years. Over that time, elected officials and organized labor have exposed the company as union-busters and of possibly alerting immigration officials to the status of some of its own workers—all to thwart fair wage increases and better working conditions for employees at the facility.
The company has grown to employ more than 1,000 mostly Latino and African American workers at the facility. The company also recently announced that it would earn $300 million this year, and is looking for new investors to expand to other cities across the country.
Click here to read more at PR Newswire.
July 9, 2010: This year, Ralphs grocery opened a brand-new automated warehouse that uses new technology to select cases, prepare orders, and wrap pallets.
Local 572 steward Frank Halstead got to tour the new facility. Here’s what he saw.
Frank Halstead works at Ralphs warehouse in Compton, Calif.
Teamster Voice interviewed him about his tour of the new automated facility in Paramount, and what’s at stake in grocery negotiations this year.
Teamster Voice: What was your first impression of the Paramount warehouse?
Frank Halstead: The size of the parking lot. It’s a huge facility with very few parking spaces.
My warehouse in Compton has over 1,100 Teamsters working there. This one has 140.
This warehouse only handles dry grocery.
But Ralphs is already remodeling a portion of the perishable section in Compton. They’ll have a new automated Perishable Service Center up and running next year.
Many Teamster jobs could be at stake.
TV: What’s it like inside?
It’s very clean. Very orderly.
The members are separated into different areas. You don’t see people talking or interacting.
Warehouse Teamsters always said that they could never automate what we do. Now they have.
TV: What does the new technology look like in action?
They store about half the cases on the pallets they came in on. The other half get stored on trays.
The trays are stored on these big vertical shelves. A crane goes up and down the aisle, pulling trays and moving them down to a conveyor belt.
That crane is always doing two things at once—if it’s pulling one tray, it’s also taking another tray to put up.
Then the case goes on a conveyor belt to a Case Order Machine (COM). The COM perfectly positions each case on a pallet—there’s no wasted space.
The system knows each case’s weight, measurements, and weight capacity. The COM knows which cases go on the bottom, which go in the middle, and which should go on top.
Finally, the pallet goes onto a machine that shrink-wraps it. Then it’s ready to be loaded onto a truck.
TV: What do the workers do?
There are a few traditional jobs that remain—and then there are new positions that are created by the new technology.
There are Equipment Operators who are assigned to a section. They have a schematic of their area. When a sensor goes off—like when a piece of shrink wrap is hanging off a pallet—it’s their job to go and correct the problem.
They still use nonunion lumpers to unload the trucks.
TV: What should the IBT and locals be doing to protect jobs?
This technology is a game-changer. But the International doesn’t have a game plan.
First of all, we need to capture the lumper work under Teamster agreements. Those should be Teamster jobs.
We should also be fighting for job retraining for the Teamsters who lose their jobs, to go into maintenance or become drivers.
There are many other areas that need to be addressed about automation and the way it will affect Teamster jobs.
Local 630 is filing grievances over some of these issues. Bad idea. We can’t afford to risk getting a bad decision from an arbitrator.
We need to fight for job protection at the bargaining table this year. The contract is our chance to win the job protections we deserve.
This machinery is incredibly expensive. They’re not going to roll it out overnight. Now is the time to prepare for the future.
June 14, 2010: Backed by Teamsters Local 117, workers at several loading companies in the Puget Sound region were scheduled to stage job actions Friday at distribution centers operated by Safeway, Fred Meyer and Unified Grocers, among others.
The workers — called “lumpers” — are hired by third-party carriers to unload cargo at warehouse distribution centers. According to a teamsters press release, they are paid by the unit, or "piecework," rather than on an hourly basis and receive no health care or retirement benefits.
Click here to read more at Supermarket News.
May 25, 2010: When striking Shaw’s warehouse workers embark on a five-day march this weekend to draw renewed attention to their nearly three-month fight against the supermarket company, they will also be evoking the civil rights and farm workers’ marches of the 1960s.
“It’s interesting that the leaders are turning to the history of social movements to find tactics that will attract public attention,’’ said James Green, a labor historian at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “Historically, of course, this was very common and often very effective."
Click here to read more at The Boston Globe.
April 6, 2010: Garbage company Waste Management said Tuesday night that the union representing garbage haulers in King and Snohomish counties has broken off contract talks. A spokesman for Teamsters Local 174 says the company is refusing to bargain.
Teamsters spokesman Michael Gonzales says the roughly 400 garbage haulers will be on the job as usual Wednesday. Beyond that, he says "we're weighing all of our options." The company says it has replacement drivers on standby in the event of a strike.
Click here to read more at The Seattle Times.
March 12, 2010: Members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in three locals in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Virginia March 11 ratified a new three-year contract with Costco Wholesale Corp. that increases wages by $1.50 an hour over term and provides twice-yearly bonuses totaling between $5,000 and $8,000, based on years of service, the union announced.
Union members in February ratified a similar agreement with Costco at some 40 locations throughout California for 12,000 workers (33 DLR A-12, 2/22/10).
A tentative agreement was reached on both contracts in January, said IBT negotiations chairman and International Vice President Rome Aloise, adding that the terms of the agreements are mostly the same, except for the pension benefits.
East Coast Workers Not Offered Pensions
“Again, we see that the margin of ratification was the lowest in memory due to the members' dissatisfaction with Costco's refusal to give East Coast Costco Teamsters the same pension plan that Costco Teamsters enjoy in California,” Aloise said. “This issue will not go away and we intend to continue to pursue this issue throughout the term of the agreement.”
The West Coast contract allows employees to participate in the pension plan administered by the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Trust Fund, which Aloise said is the largest single pension fund in the world, worth some $32 billion, Aloise said. Workers receive about $1.17 per hour worked in pension distributions. Employees on the West Coast also receive a 401(k) plan that provides employees beginning in the first year with 20 cents per hour. This increases to 60 cents per hour after 10 years experience.
Meanwhile, the East Coast contract only provides employees with the same 401(k) plan as the West Coast contract but no pension plan. However, employees on the East Coast do receive an extra profit sharing distribution West Coast workers do not receive. This takes the form of a contribution into the 401(k) plan, but is not guaranteed each year, Aloise said.
The West Coast contract is retroactive to Feb. 1, 2010, and expires Jan. 31, 2013, Aloise said. Effective March 1, 2010 and then Feb. 1, 2011 and Feb. 1, 2012, workers will receive a 50 cents per hour increase. The average hourly rate currently is $21.55. The “wall-to-wall” bargaining unit includes clerks, meat cutters, warehouse workers, stockers, and delivery drivers, Aloise said.
“The wage and bonus increases will maintain the members' distinction as the highest paid retail workers in the country,” the union said in a March 11 statement.
The contract essentially remained the same from the previous contract, other than improving language that will strengthen job security, the union said.
Costco did not immediately return a call seeking comment March 11.
By Alicia Biggs
February 26, 2010: Contracts covering thousands of Southern California grocery and warehouse Teamsters are up this fall.
Teamster warehouse jobs are on the line.
Contracts expire in September for over 8,000 Teamsters in seven locals at some of Southern California’s biggest grocers and warehouses, including Albertsons, Ralphs, Vons/Safeway, Unified, and more.
The future of union jobs in warehousing is at stake. Just ask Teamsters at Ralphs.
This year, Ralphs opened a brand-new automated warehouse in Paramount, Calif. that uses new technology to select cases, prepare orders, and wrap pallets—drastically cutting the number of Teamsters needed to do the job.
In April, Ralphs is planning the first wave of lay-offs. Eventually, the company expects that over 240 workers will lose their jobs to the Paramount facility.
Next year, there will be more cuts when the company remodels a portion of the existing Perishable Service Center in Compton with a new automated perishable section—threatening many of the over 400 Teamster warehouse jobs there.
Save Union Jobs
Automation is spreading slowly. The machinery is extremely expensive.
But it is coming.
Language that is negotiated in this bargaining round can help protect Teamster jobs for years to come. What do we need?
- Job training. Automation will kill some jobs. But it will also create new maintenance jobs. Train warehouse workers for new jobs in maintenance and driving.
- Bring nonunion work into the union. The new facilities still need people to unload trailers. Nonunion lumpers have taken over many jobs that used to be Teamster. Require Teamsters to unload trailers.
- Recapture lost outsourced work. The current contract was five years long. This contract will probably be a long one, too.
You can bet employers are planning that long in advance. Our union needs to fight for language now that prepares us for the new technology that’s coming down the road.
Business as Usual?
Last year, Local 630 principal officer Paul Kenny negotiated an early contract for warehouse Teamsters at Sysco and U.S. Foods that gave up night and weekend premiums.
Another sticking point could be seniority rights. It’s no secret we’re bargaining in a tough economy. Will more Teamster officials be tempted to trade in our working conditions and Teamster standards like Kenny did last year?
“I’ve been working at Unified for 21 years, and I’ve always trusted that someone else will get the job done,” said Dan Nash, a Local 630 member at Unified in Santa Fe Springs.
At Unified, the company has been violating members’ seniority rights on holiday extra work. Members are pushing for less ambiguous language.
“This year the stakes are just too high,” said Nash. “I’m paying attention and I’m going to make sure my voice is heard early.”
Time to Do Our Part
“I’ve worked at Unified for 21 years, and I’ve always trusted that someone else will get the job done.
“This year the stakes are just too high. I’m paying attention and I’m going to make sure my voice is heard early.”
Dan Nash, Unified Local 630, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
February 19, 2010: "It will be quite a battle," said Sandy Pope, the president of Teamsters Local 805, referring to an attempt by employees of online grocer Fresh Direct to join the union.
The Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342 launched a public campaign this week to focus attention on the workers' struggle to organize.
Click here to read more at NY Daily News.
January 19, 2010: Teamsters Local 805 is launching a new campaign to organize FreshDirect, the biggest nonunion employer in the New York City grocery industry.
FreshDirect is an online supermarket that doubles as a warehouse and a grocery delivery service for New Yorkers. Their motto is: “Our food is fresh. Our customers are spoiled.” More accurate would be: “Our Food is fresh. Our labor conditions are rotten.”
The 1,200 warehouse workers at FreshDirect make starting wages of just $8 an hour with a maximum hourly wage of $11. Health benefits are completely unaffordable. Workers’ shifts are changed frequently.
Teamsters Local 805 is teaming up with political leaders, community groups and immigrants’ rights organizations to demand that FreshDirect respect workers’ rights to organize.
The organizing drive is a joint effort with UFCW Local 342.
Taxpayers have subsidized FreshDirect to the tune of $2.8 million as part of a program that is supposed to create good jobs. But FreshDirect employees make just two-thirds of what the average grocery warehouse worker makes.
When workers tried to organize with Local 805 in 2007, FreshDirect played dirty. They fired key leaders of the organizing drive. Federal immigration officials raided the warehouse right before the union vote. The company won the vote—but not the hearts and minds of FreshDirect employees.
“Ever since, workers have been asking us when we’re coming back,” Local 805 President Sandy Pope told the Village Voice. “Well, we’re coming back.”
The local isn’t coming alone. Political and community leaders are backing the effort.
City Council members have called on the company to sign an agreement to remain neutral during the organizing drive and to agree to an expedited election procedure. Another high-ranking city official, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, has offered to broker an agreement.
“We want workers to have the right to vote to join Local 805 without delays and without intimidation tactics,” Pope said.
If the company refuses to sign a neutrality agreement, Local 805 has already lined up a battery of community supporters to take on FreshDirect in a public campaign. The International Union, Joint Council 16 and many area locals are also backing the effort.
Fresh Direct workers are ready to stand up for themselves and their right to form a union.
It’s up to the company to decide if it wants to agree to a fair election—or put its brand name and tax-payer subsidies at risk in an ugly public dispute.
July 21, 2009: On May 14, Wal-Mart released its first-quarter financials for 2009 and announced that despite the recession -- or, perhaps, because of it -- business was booming. Shoppers in search of cheaper products had been flocking to its stores: A full 17 percent of its customers during the quarter were first-timers. The company had been able to exploit the downturn by reducing its legendarily bare-bones distribution expenses by an additional 5 percent. In keeping with its practice of compelling its manufacturers, shippers, truckers, and warehouses to continually cut costs, Wal-Mart had been able to "sweat the assets" in its distribution network more than usual, said Eduardo Castro-Wright, head of the company's U.S. division.
Click here to read more at The American Prospect.