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Latest News - December 2012

December 11, 2012
Labor relations board rules against Healthbridge in union flap
Source: Stamford Advocate
By: Amanda Cuda

United Natural Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ:UNFI) said today that it is surprised and disappointed that Teamsters Local 117 has decided to strike at its Auburn, Wash., distribution center. UNFI offered to return to the bargaining table as recently as yesterday, yet the Union elected to go out on strike.

The Union’s claims that UNFI has engaged in unfair labor practices are entirely baseless and without merit. To date, the National Labor Relations Board has not found any instances of UNFI committing unfair labor practices, although the NLRB did find that the Union threatened UNFI’s employees with loss of employment if they crossed the Union’s picket line. The Union continues to misrepresent the situation and undertake a smear campaign in an effort to damage UNFI’s reputation.

Given the Union’s decision to go out on strike during this busy holiday season, UNFI has no choice but to move forward with contingency plans, which include hiring replacement workers to support customers in the region.

The Union never brought UNFI’s latest proposal to its members for a vote. The company’s most recent offer included a 10.8 percent wage increase over three years, as well as the acceptance of several union proposals. UNFI has made numerous concessions during the months of negotiation and believes that the latest offer it presented to the union is fair, reasonable and competitive.

UNFI has historically had a good working relationship with Teamsters Local 117 for the last 22 years, and its approach at all times in the negotiations has been to work collaboratively to ensure it reaches an agreement that is in the best interest of its associates, its customers and its business.

United Natural Foods, Inc. (carries and distributes more than 65,000 products to more than 27,000 customer locations throughout the United States and Canada. The Company serves a wide variety of retail formats including conventional supermarket chains, natural product superstores, independent retail operators and the food service channel. United Natural Foods, Inc. was ranked by Fortune in 2006 – 2010 and 2012 as one of its “Most Admired Companies,” winner of the Supermarket News 2008 Sustainability Excellence Award, recognized by the Nutrition Business Journal for its 2009 Environment and Sustainability Award and chosen by Food Logistics Magazine as one of its 2012 Top 20 Green Providers.

A federal judge has granted an injunction filed by the National Labor Relations Board to temporarily halt New Jersey-based HealthBridge Management's unilateral implementation of a new contract at five Connecticut nursing homes.

The injunction is the latest chapter what has become an ugly battle between HealthBridge and New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU, the union representing many of its employees.

In June, HealthBridge implemented a "last, best and final" contract after more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations with the union.

On July 3, about 600 workers at five HealthBridge facilities -- West River Health Care Center in Milford, Long Ridge in Stamford, Danbury Health Care Center, Newington Health Care Center and Westport Health Care Center -- went on strike to protest the action, claiming that HealthBridge had unilaterally imposed unfair working conditions at the homes.

Union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff called the labor relations board decision "a very big deal and something that doesn't happen very often. It's a complete confirmation and vindication of everything we've been saying all along."

She said the union plans to meet with all the striking workers Wednesday and start taking steps to get them all back to work.

Though HealthBridge has stated that the new guidelines provide a raise to workers, the union argues that the company is also taking away a lot from employees, including insurance contributions, pension contributions and vacation time.

Previous to the strike, HealthBridge locked out employees of West River for 14 weeks.

HealthBridge spokeswoman Lisa Crutchfield issued the following statement in reaction to the decision: "Naturally, we are disappointed in the judge's decision. We will review the decision and weigh our options. We believe the decision to grant injunctive relief unnecessarily short circuits the established venue -- the ongoing NLRB trial -- in which this issue should be resolved, and we continue to be confident that we will ultimately prevail in this matter."

The decision is subject to appeal in a U.S. Court of Appeals. However, HealthBridge will be required to implement the judge's decision while the appeals process is ongoing.



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