Teamsters union locals in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest regions said they’ve reached “a significant agreement” in which member employees of foodservice distributor US Foods could work at facilities of grocery retailer Safeway, a division of Albertsons Cos.
Under the arrangement, announced Friday by Teamsters locals 455, 690 and 174 and Joint Council 28, bargaining unit members employed by US Foods can begin performing work at Safeway distribution centers to help address the “imbalance” between broadline foodservice and grocery industries caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Safeway has agreed to honor the workers’ union contract at US Foods in its entirety,” Larry Kroetch, business agent for Teamsters Local 690 and chairman of the Joint Council 28 warehouse division, said in a statement. “This agreement will ensure warehouses are staffed and stocked, and it will ensure communities have access to food by keeping professional drivers on the road.”
Spokane, Wash.-based Local 690 represents eastern Washington and northern Idaho. Kroetch noted that union representatives worked quickly with US Foods and Safeway/Albertsons to head off a reduction in operations at the foodservice wholesaler, which prevented furloughs and cuts to hours for union members.
Nationwide social distancing and community lockdowns from the rapid spread of COVID-19 have forced the closure of virtually all but essential businesses, such as food retailers and pharmacies, leading to dire financial forecasts and job cuts at many companies. Meanwhile, grocery retail chains and distributors have seen booming business and are rushing to hire thousands more workers — including from other business sectors — as consumers stock up on food, health products and other staple items to hunker down at home.
The foodservice and restaurant sectors have been particularly hard hit. According to the International Foodservice Distributors Association, foodservice distributors stand to lose $24 billion in top-line sales, receivables and perishable inventory over the next three months due to the coronavirus crisis. And the National Restaurant Association recently estimated that the restaurant industry — representing 1 million restaurant and foodservice outlets and 15.3 million employees — could lose at least $225 billion over the next three months and cut 5 million to 7 million jobs because of COVID-19.
“Our work is needed now more than ever, and this agreement meant a lot to all of us,” commented Pablo Coria, a 15-year employee at US Foods and steward for Denver-based Teamsters Local 455, which represents the Rocky Mountain region. “I had the seniority to stay at US Foods. But there was no change to our contract whatsoever, so I decided to make the switch to help my co-workers. I am just blessed to be working and very grateful to the Teamsters for fighting to keep us working.”
Overall, US Foods has 25,000 employees and 75 distribution facilities. The Teamsters represent 4,300 US Foods workers via 43 contracts at 27 facilities.
According to Local 455 President Steve Vairma, who also is director of the Teamsters warehouse division, the agreement with Safeway/Albertsons could serve as a template for other union locals across the country.
“This is the way unions and companies work together on creative solutions in times of crisis. This is the way we keep people working,” Vairma stated. “I commend both companies for their commitment to their workers during these difficult times and hope other companies will step up to the plate and follow suit.”
Last week, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons announced partnerships with 17 companies in the restaurant and hospitality sectors to hire workers displaced by business shutdowns amid the coronavirus health crisis.
Plans call for Albertsons to immediately hire 30,000 part-time associates, providing jobs to companies compelled to close or scale back operations, furlough employees or cut hours. The grocery retailer said it has secured partnerships with ASM Global, BJ’s Restaurants, G6 Hospitality, Hilton, Inspire Brands, Marriott International, MGM Resorts, Regal Cinemas and G6 Hospitality, among businesses.
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