Teamsters, most of them drivers, on strike at 2 Sysco facilities

Teamsters union members at two distribution centers operated by giant food distributor Sysco are on strike and negotiations have deteriorated significantly in the past day. 

The Teamsters late Wednesday released a statement that said negotiations for both groups of workers broke down and the strikes are continuing. 

A strike by Teamsters members against Sysco’s distribution center in Syracuse, New York, is entering its second week. And in Plympton, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, Teamsters from Local 653 walked off the job after their contract expired on Sept. 30.

The Teamsters put the split at more than 230 workers striking in Syracuse and more than 300 near Boston. Shannon Mutschler,  a Sysco spokeswoman, said in an email the Boston-area Teamsters are drivers only, while the Syracuse Teamsters represent drivers and warehouse workers.

The strikes led Sysco on Thursday morning to release its first statement on the walkout — and it did not suggest optimism that a resolution was near.

Saying the company had reached an impasse with the two local branches, Sysco accused the union leadership of having “effectively rejected the company’s offers and denied their members the right to vote on the proposed offer.”

The Sysco statement also spelled out some of the issues in the disputes. In Boston, the failure to reach a deal is because the local branch “demanded Sysco Boston associates participate in the critically underfunded union-sponsored pension plan, a move that Sysco Boston believes is not good for its associates.” The union said it favored a 401(k) plan with a Sysco match.

“Sysco Boston associates already participate in a strong company-sponsored 401(k) retirement plan that allows them to choose from many investment options and includes guaranteed annual contributions and a match,” the company said.

In Syracuse, Sysco said it offered wage increases of 9% in year 1 and 24% over the life of the proposed three-year contract. For warehouse workers, it would be 8% and 22%, respectively. 

The Teamsters’ late Wednesday statement said talks that day lasted more than six hours without resolution. 

Local 317 in Syracuse walked off the job on Sept. 28. In announcing the work stoppage, the union said the walkout occured “after weeks of contentious contract negotiations with the company,” the union said in a post on its website. 

The statement also said picket lines could “extend to more locations across the country in coming days.”

In its Friday statement, Sysco said the union is “now threatening to unlawfully extend picket lines to other Sysco companies, acting on a Teamsters-driven national agenda that demonstrates a complete lack of care or concern for the impact these actions will have on our associates, their families, our customers and the communities that depend on our customers for food.”

A report on a news service called the World Socialist Web Site said strikers from Syracuse had traveled to a Sysco facility in Phoenix and set up picket lines that were being honored. But the Mutschler said issues there had been resolved and a brief strike ended Tuesday. 

The union said it is negotiating at several other Sysco locations.

“Hundreds of members are currently working without a contract or have contracts about to expire due to the company’s failure to bargain in good faith,” the union said.

Sysco is not fully unionized by the Teamsters. The Mutschler said the company operates approximately 8,500 trucks in the U.S. and about 17% of its workers are represented by unions, primarily the Teamsters. It also has unions in its international operations.

In its Form 10-K filing earlier this year, Sysco said about 9% of its union employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements that expire in fiscal 2023. Sysco’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. 

The Teamsters’ statement on its website said it represents more than 10,000 Sysco workers across the U.S. 

In response to an email query from FreightWaves, Mutschler said it has continued its operations out of Syracuse, using “additional third-party resources.” She also said that further negotiation meetings with the union are scheduled this week. 

Operations also are continuing near Boston, according to Mutschler.

“They’ve been bringing in support from third parties to increase operations and are serving customers through a 24/7 will-call operation,” she said. “Service in Boston has increased every day since the strike began.”

Sysco was at about 50% of normal capacity Wednesday in Plympton, she added. 

“The work stoppage is unnecessary and union leaders have taken this action with little regard for the damage it will cause to our associates and our customers,” Mutschler said.

The Mutschler said the company had reached a tentative agreement with the local Syracuse branch and that the bargaining committee had recommended ratification, but that vote failed. Sysco returned to the bargaining table, Mutschler said, “but Teamsters declared a strike without allowing our associates to vote on Sysco Syracuse’s last and final offer.”

“Sysco Syracuse offered wage increases that would place our associates at or above market, along with a $2,500 signing bonus, comprehensive health and welfare benefits and paid time off,” Mutschler said. 

The national Teamsters union had not responded to an email query from FreightWaves at publication time.

In the website statement, the union quoted Matt Wademan, a 30-year Sysco driver who said: “We’re striking over unfair labor practices, unsolved grievances, and unfair wages. This is nothing but corporate greed. Sysco simply doesn’t want to pay us what we’re worth.”

According to Mutschler: “We respect and care about our associates and deeply appreciate their contributions to our success, and it is always our intent to provide fair and competitive pay and benefits, while balancing the needs of our customers and our business.”

Driver turnover at Sysco, in particular its Sygma division that hauls food over longer distances, is enough of an issue that CEO Kevin Hourican addressed it on the company’s most recent earnings call with analysts on Aug. 9. 

“The higher turnover and the negative impact of that higher turnover had on our productivity and overtime rates that we were incurring because of the open jobs was a major pain point, and that is meaningfully addressable through the work that we’re doing with hiring stability, which is meaningfully improving,” said Hourican, added that Sysco is seeking to reduce the use of third-party labor. 

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Source: freightwaves - Teamsters, most of them drivers, on strike at 2 Sysco facilities
Editor: John Kingston