The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Katherine Paul, 207.653.3090,

Victory for Fair Trade and Food Workers' Rights

Under Pressure from Organic Consumers, Food Co-ops and Food Activists, UNFI Settles Strike with Washington State Workers


United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), the nation's largest wholesale distributor of organic, natural and specialty foods, will reinstate striking workers who had been permanently replaced at its Auburn, Wash., distribution warehouse, under an agreement reached Feb. 7 with members of Teamsters Local 117. According toSustainable Food News, UNFI agreed to a contract that calls for a 17.75-percent wage increase over five years.

"This is a victory for unions, for food workers everywhere, and for domestic fair trade," said Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). "We simply cannot and will not allow labor exploitation and union-busing practices in the $35 billion organic sector. We're proud of the organic consumers who responded to our boycott of UNFI's private-label brands during the strike, and of the Washington State food co-ops who supported the strike and threatened to find alternative distributors unless UNFI agreed to treat workers fairly. We hope this will demonstrate to the Teamsters and other unions that U.S organic consumers are passionate about justice, as well as health and sustainability, and inspire the tens of thousands of non-union workers for industry giants such as UNFI, WFM and Trader Joe's to organize themselves into trade unions for collective bargaining."

According to a spokesperson for Teamsters Local 117, the campaign against UNFI, which included the boycott, 24-hour a day picket lines around the UNFI warehouse in Auburn, Wash., leafleting outside Whole Foods Market (UNFI's biggest customer) retail stores, backlash from area food co-ops and bad press, including a widely-circulated article by Cummins and Dave Murphy, founder of FoodDemocracyNOW!, exposing the fact that UNFI was under investigation for 45 violations of federal labor law, struck fear in the hearts of UNFI management and brought them to the bargaining table.

The bitter strike began Dec. 10, seven months after the Teamsters contract had expired. UNFI promptly and permanently replaced 72 of the 168 workers and drivers who walked off the job.

A number of food co-ops, including Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets (PCC), the nation's largest consumer-owned retail grocer, and Central Food Co-op, also in Seattle, threatened to pull their business if UNFI didn't return to the bargaining table. Olympia Food Co-op, in a show of solidarity with workers, suspended business with UNFI for one week, which cost the multi-billion company an estimated $100,000.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is an online and grassroots 501(c)3 nonprofit public interest organization, and the only organization in the U.S. focused exclusively on promoting the views and interests of the nation's estimated 50 million consumers of organically and socially responsibly produced food and other products. OCA educates and advocates on behalf of organic consumers, engages consumers in marketplace pressure campaigns, and works to advance sound food and farming policy through grassroots lobbying. We address crucial issues around food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children's health, corporate accountability, Fair Trade, environmental sustainability, including pesticide use, and other food- and agriculture-related topics.