TOLLESON — A labor dispute involving a food company has apparently started to have an impact on food business.
Sysco Foods had its labor contract expire July 3. A representative of Local Teamsters 104 said negotiations are moving slowly.
About 275 employees at Sysco Arizona’s Tollesonb facility and a handful of other locations have not had a contract since then.
Ryan Proctor, a business representative for Local Teamsters 104, said Sysco workers didn’t work Friday but were back to work Saturday. The expiration of a seven-year contract meant the 275 employees have been working without a contract throughout July and August.
A negotiation session is set for Aug. 25. Proctor said he’s hoping Teamsters will get to speak directly with Sysco decision makers, unlike the go-betweens he says they’ve been talking with recently.
“It’s been frustrating,” Proctor said. “Not only has it been a lot of short conversations, and also, everything is like, ‘We’ll have to get back to you.’ I don’t think their whole team is on the same page.”
On July 8, more than 250 members of Teamsters Local 104 voted to authorize a strike at the Tolleson facility, Proctor said. The vote to strike was nearly unanimous with 228 participating members voting in favor of the strike.
Sysco has several major contracts in Arizona and serves many small businesses as well.
“We are fed up with the company’s attitude towards its essential workers,” Curtis Barney, a five-year driver and Local 104 steward, said in a news release. “We aren’t backing down because we know what we deserve. We dedicate our lives to keep our communities fed. The
company likes to remind us that we are essential, but guess what, we know we are essential! We cannot put up with this treatment anymore.”
A spokesperson for Sysco, Inc. said the Teamsters haven't allowed a vote on the company's offer.
"Sysco Arizona cares about and respects our associates and that’s why we’ve offered industry leading wages, 100% company paid healthcare insurance, more paid time off and other benefits in an effort to reach a new agreement," the spokesperson said. "Unfortunately, the Teamsters Local 104, which represents our drivers, warehouse, fleet, and facilities associates, is refusing to allow our associates to vote on our last and final offer.
"Instead of working to reach a resolution, Local 104 has implemented intermittent strikes which only hurt our associates and the local foodservice community, many of whom are small businesses," the spokesperson said. "Sysco Arizona is utilizing third-party resources to continue service to our customers and mitigate the impact of the union’s illegal tactics."
Proctor said there are several core issues making things tough for Sysco workers in Arizona. One, as with many labor disputes, is an hourly wage. Proctor said the $22 to $24 per hour for warehouse workers and $25 per hour for drivers are near the bottom of the food shipment point-of-use industry.
Also on the list is the amount of hours employees are asked to work. Not only are some workers on the job six days per week, but the 40 hours each worker is guaranteed by law leaves some gray areas at Sysco, Proctor said.
“Management is trying to diminish the 40-hour-guarantee language,” Proctor said.
Another issue is whether the company will use drivers who have commercial driver’s license, or CDL, which historically has been mandatory at many firms and earns drivers a significantly better wage than those without. Proctor said has begun advertising a “non-CDL” driver position externally, allowing less-experienced, less-qualified drivers to take positions at a lesser wage, with no opportunity and no incentive for the company’s CDL drivers to transfer into such jobs.
The contract that expired on July 3 covers fleet drivers, warehouse workers, facility maintenance mechanics and fleet mechanics, Proctor said.
Sysco and its workers serve restaurants like Rusconi’s American Kitchen in north Phoenix. Owner Michael Rusconi said he’s had to order from Shamrock Foods as deliveries get tougher to get from Sysco.
“I am just about done with them,” Rusconi said, speaking of Sysco's functioning over the past couple of months. “I don’t know exactly what they’re doing. All I know is they told me they couldn’t service our restaurant, at one point, then, about four months ago, came back and asked ‘What can we do?’ But since then, there’s been some very difficult conversations. I’m one of their smaller customers. I don’t think they want to service accounts like mine.”
Rusconi said he typically orders beef tenderloin from Sysco. However, many of his orders only end up around $1,500. He noticed the annual Arizona Restaurant Association Foodlist Awards, a June 2 event where he received one of two Food Pioneer awards, was catered by Shamrock Foods.
Proctor said he believes Sysco workers in Arizona went on strike for four days back in 2015, but he isn’t familiar with how that contract finally came together. Arizona Sysco workers threatened to strike in August 2020 amid COVID-19 working conditions and other disputes.
The Teamsters warn there could be a national impact of the Arizona strike.
“If the company fails to offer a fair and reasonable deal for Local 104 members, there will be widespread repercussions across the country,” Tom Erickson, Teamsters International vice president and director of the Teamsters Warehouse Division, said in a statement. “We are gearing up for a fight and coordinating with locals nationwide to get our members what they deserve.”