Posted on May 28, 2020 by Sustainable Food News

Union sounds alarm over Covid-19 cases at UNFI distribution center

Teamsters say organic, natural wholesaling giant 'brought in temporary workers from all over the country'

A union representing workers at the distribution center owned by United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) in Hopkins, Minn., has called on state health officials to look into rising cases of Covid-19 at the warehouse.

Based in Providence, R.I., UNFI is the nation’s largest food wholesaler (NYSE: UNFI) after acquiring major food wholesaler SuperValu Inc. for $2.3 billion in October 2018.

UNFI said earlier this month that it has incurred “substantial incremental costs” related to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the impact of temporary pandemic related incentives and additional costs for safety protocols and procedures at 58 distribution centers and 78 corporate-owned supermarkets.

The concern by Teamsters Local 120, which represents nearly 12,000 members in Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota, is focused on the use of subcontracted workers, although all four positive Covid-19 cases are union employees.

Troy Gustafson, business agent for said UNFI management’s actions in the warehouse may be contributing to the problem.

“Last week, UNFI brought in temporary workers from all over the country to pick orders; literally, from all over the country,” said Gustafson. “To our knowledge, they were not tested or quarantined prior to coming in, and they are not social distancing or following established safety protocols at the warehouse. Now, we are seeing more positive cases arise. If something isn’t done fast this could be the next COVID-19 hotbed in Minnesota, and we could see a major disruption in food supply here.”

Local 120 President Tom Erickson said there were no confirmed cases at the Hopkins warehouse two weeks ago.

“This could escalate quickly if the company doesn’t wake up,” Erickson said. “Instead of following safety protocols, they decided to bring in workers from all over the country, which not only increases the risk of potential exposure to four workers but also amplifies the potential impact on the state’s grocery supply. It’s outrageous and irresponsible. Immediate action must be taken to protect the well-being and safety of our workers.”

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