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Federal agency issues pro-union ruling for 80 Sarasota grocery drivers

Workers from a McIntosh Road grocery distribution center will be allowed to seek union representation with the Teamsters.

Photo by Jason Smith
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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The National Labor Relations Board has ruled to allow a union to represent dozens of Sarasota workers, despite a protest from their employer. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 79 asked the board, an independent federal agency, to represent 80 drivers in Sarasota and one in Miami who work for wholesale grocery distributor United Natural Foods and Albert's Organics (UNFI).

UNFI sought to quash the efforts of its workers to join the Teamsters Local 79 in Tampa because, it contended, the company planned to outsource its transportation services to transportation and logistics company J.B. Hunt as of June 2.

"I was in tears when I got the news that we were going to be able to keep our jobs and move forward with our election,” Patricia Morris, a seven-year driver at UNFI in Sarasota, says in a statement issued Wednesday from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. "As a former UPSer, I know the value of being a Teamster firsthand and how beneficial representation will be for us at UNFI. We're already seeing results. Without the Teamsters, we could have lost our jobs." 

Morris works at UNFI’s facility at 6272 McIntosh Road, which is home to wholesale warehousing and grocery distribution operations in Sarasota for Delaware-based UNFI, whose largest customer nationally is Whole Foods.

UNFI human resources personnel met with drivers in Sarasota at the end of February and early March to let them know their positions would be eliminated at an unknown future date and their jobs would be outsourced to a third party to increase operational efficiency, the National Labor Relations Board ruling says. Then in early March, employees were given a letter notifying them: “We anticipate that your employment will end on or about June 2,” stating they would be given at least 60 days’ notice before losing their jobs.

None of the employees had been given 60 days’ notice as of a March 14 hearing before the National Labor Relations Board.

It was not certain that J.B. Hunt would have enough tractors to take over the delivery driver services by the June 2 date and the takeover was difficult because of the number of routes UNFI runs, Vice President of Outbound Operations Nicholas Selders testified at the March hearing on the matter.

The lack of definite plans prompted the National Labor Relations Board to rule in favor of the employees. “There is no evidence about plans to overcome those difficulties [J.B. Hunt’s lack of tractors and the number of routes], and there is not a definite date when the Employer’s drivers will be terminated,” the April 15 ruling from National Labor Relations Board Regional Director David Cohen says.

“The Employer has failed to establish that the subcontracting of its transportation services and termination of its drivers’ employment is sufficiently imminent and definite to warrant dismissal of the petition,” Cohen says in his decision.

Cohen ordered a union election to be held May 4 and 5 in the training room at the McIntosh Road facility.

“This ruling reaffirms UNFI workers' right to representation in the workplace without interference from management,” Tom Erickson, director of the Teamsters Warehouse Division, says in the Teamsters statement. “The Teamsters will fight this anti-union employer in every avenue, at every level.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is currently in litigation on behalf of UNFI workers in Pompano Beach and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, according to a statement from the organization, which represents 1.3 million workers in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.



Elizabeth King

Elizabeth is a business news reporter with the Business Observer, covering primarily Sarasota-Bradenton, in addition to other parts of the region. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she previously covered hyperlocal news in Maryland for Patch for 12 years. Now she lives in Sarasota County.

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