NEW YORK — Given a choice between affiliating with the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers or not having a union at all, workers at online grocer FreshDirect here last week voted to go with the latter of the three options.
“By a wide margin, the employees of FreshDirect's plant operations voted against joining a union,” said Jim Moore, senior vice president, business affairs, FreshDirect. “With the vote behind us and our employees' decision clear, we are looking forward to focusing on the busy holiday season and on the months and years ahead.”
He said 80% of warehouse employees at the online grocer voted against joining either union. According to reports, 530 workers took part in the secret ballot, which was conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. The company employs about 900 workers in the warehouse, where pay starts at about $7.85 per hour, the company said.
The vote was mired in controversy, however, as it was reportedly preceded by a mass exodus of workers from the company's warehouse after FreshDirect asked workers to verify their eligibility to work in the U.S., saying it was the subject of an audit by federal immigration authorities. As many as 100 employees were dismissed or suspended just days before the vote was scheduled, according to reports.
According to a statement by James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters, the action by Immigration and Customs Enforcement appears to have violated ICE's internal policies by investigating a company during a labor dispute. FreshDirect in a statement said it had requested that ICE delay its investigation until after the union vote, but it was unsuccessful.
The company could not be reached for further comment on the investigation.
Both Teamsters Local 805, which traditionally represents warehouse workers, and UFCW Local 348, which represents supermarket workers and others, had been seeking to organize FreshDirect's massive warehouse just outside Manhattan in the Queens town of Long Island City. In September, Teamsters Local 805 here filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the company fired two warehouse workers for expressing pro-union sentiments.
FreshDirect's 500 truck drivers last year joined UFCW Local 348 after rejecting organizing efforts in 2004 and 2005, according to FreshDirect.
“FreshDirect has always recognized its employees' rights to choose whether or not they wanted union representation,” Moore said.
According to reports, the UFCW is preparing to launch a new organizing effort for the warehouse workers next year.