KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Associated Wholesale Grocers last week implemented its agreement to outsource its warehousing and trucking operations, drawing fire from ousted Teamsters here and in Springfield, Mo.
Teamsters picketed the independent cooperative's distribution facilities and handed out boycott notices at dozens of its member stores last week in an attempt to force AWG to return to the bargaining table. But AWG, which declared an impasse in its negotiations with the union, maintained its decision was final, and that "union leadership never took our concerns seriously."
AWG in February said it would outsource its warehousing and trucking operations in Kansas City and Springfield beginning April 2 in an attempt to improve efficiency, save costs and facilitate expansion. Its contract with IBT Local 245 in Springfield and Local 955 in Kansas City expired April 1. AWG's Oklahoma City facility is staffed with Teamsters workers whose contracts expire in April 2001. Workers there honored picket lines last week.
Temporary warehouse workers for CS Integrated in Kansas City and Elite Logistics in Springfield began working at 12:01 a.m., April 2. Third-party trucking companies also began operating in both cities at that time. Associated encouraged its workers to seek jobs with the new operators, Doug Carolan, AWG president and chief executive officer, told SN. But the union discouraged its members from seeking jobs with the new warehouse companies so as not to abandon its trucker members, Rick Gardner, a representative of IBT Local 245, told SN.
"They [AWG] intentionally made it difficult for all of us," said Gardner. "We couldn't talk to Elite because we couldn't get the same contract to cover our truckers from the independent drivers they hired. If they [AWG] got a company that did both we could have worked with them."
The union last week filed an unfair labor practices charge against AWG with the National Labor Relations Board, Gardner added.
Teamsters also rejected an offer last week from AWG to lease workers its trucks at a rate of $100 a month over 24 months, at which point AWG would sign over the leases. That would allow the drivers to be independent owner-operators.
Mike Sprague, president of Toronto-based Tibbett & Britten North America, the parent company of Elite Logistics, told SN Elite had offered jobs to former Teamsters but very few had applied. "We made it clear we were prepared to talk with them," he said.
AWG and the Teamsters battled bitterly over contract issues for more than a year, and the relationship between the parties has grown increasingly sour. Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa Jr. led a March rally in Springfield during which Hoffa promised AWG "the fight of its life." Associated countered the boycott request with a print ad campaign in local newspapers saying the union was "unwilling to face facts," and urged consumers to continue to shop at local stores.
"I think this shows that labor is out of touch with the competitive environment facing the food industry today," Carolan said. "We compete with large companies that use the very same outsourcing strategies. We are hardly the first."
Carolan said it was "impossible to say" what effect the boycott would have on the wholesaler and its customers.
Last week, an independent trucker working for AWG was reportedly dragged from his truck and beaten as he made a delivery in Mansfield, Mo. Springfield police are also investigating a truck wreck that may have been connected to vehicles following the rig. Police also reported incidents of rock throwing and harassment, according to reports.