By ERNIE GOTTA
Teamsters working at Sysco, a major food distributor, are on strike in New York, Massachusetts, and Arizona. The strike wave at Sysco started in Syracuse, N.Y., on Sept. 27 when 230 workers and members of Teamsters Local 317 walked off the job. They set up picket lines to protest Sysco’s attempt to strip workers of quality health care and their pension. They are also fighting over better wages to keep up with inflation and ending excessive overtime. Three days after the Syracuse pickets went up, the strike spread to Boston, where 300 Teamsters from Local 653 walked off the job. In Phoenix, Ariz., 250 Sysco workers represented by Teamsters Local 104 have also joined the strike.
The workers are represented under separate union contracts in each of the locations and the union is taking advantage of several contracts expiring at once. Striking multiple locations and impacting Sysco’s bottom line puts greater pressure on the bosses to accept the workers’ contract demands. Nationwide, the Teamsters represent more than 10,000 Sysco workers. Could more Sysco workers go on strike as contracts expire? The answer may be yes. Mark May, principal officer of Teamsters Local 317, has warned the company in the media, “More contracts are coming up.”
If more shops go on strike, the logical move would be toward a fight for a national contract at Sysco that represents all of the company’s workers. Contracts negotiated individually make bargaining difficult and ultimately it weakens the workers’ ability to win their demands. Now is the time for rank-and-file Teamsters to raise the demand in their union locals that they’re ready to wage a fight to win a national contract like the Teamsters have at UPS. A contract that extends good wages, benefits, and fair overtime language to all 10,000 Sysco workers across the country can only be won through a militant struggle on the picket line.
Sysco’s CEO Kevin Hourican has taken full advantage of soaring food prices. Sysco has been very profitable beating their expected Q4 2022 earnings with a highest ever revenue of $68.83 billion. Hourican is predicting a downturn regarding inflation. He recently said in a Time article, “I expect food inflation to decrease over the next year at both the grocery store and in our business of food away from home’’ as product availability improves.”
Whatever the economic outcome, 63 percent of Sysco’s business comes from restaurants, and that market is currently booming. The National Restaurant Association says that industry will be worth $898 billion in 2022, up from $799 billion in 2021. It’s clear that while the strikes will disrupt food distribution to restaurants, schools, and hospitals, Sysco has more than enough in profits to offer the truck drivers and warehouse workers who labor under difficult conditions.
The Teamsters have also set up Sysco Watch to reach out to customers of the company in the attempt to solicit support. The website states: “Restaurants, health care facilities, and many other Sysco customers have complained about the company’s pricing, threats, and other poor corporate behavior. Sysco has made billions in profits over the past few years. Customers of the foodservice giant should not be squeezed so that Sysco executives can line their pockets even more. We want to hear from you.”
Meanwhile, third-party scab operations are being set up by Sysco to keep their profits flowing. According to the union’s posts on social media, the scab trucks are having difficulty even driving the big rigs. One video shows a scab burning up the clutch on a Sysco truck and another picture shows a scab truck that careened off the side of the road. Although the courts have tied the workers hands with laws that make it difficult to directly stop scab labor, in this case the scabs have shown the value of skilled union drivers. However, the future success of strikes and building a revitalized labor movement will largely depend on workers’ ability to defy court injunctions and completely stop the flow of the bosses’ profits. A clear historical example is the 1934 Teamsters’ strike in Minneapolis, which you can read more about in this article.
On Friday, Oct. 7, about 200 members of Local 317 met to reaffirm their commitment to the strike. A Facebook post by Teamsters Local 317 quoted a member during a membership meeting: “Most of us don’t get many opportunities in our lives to be part of something special that truly makes a difference in the world. This is one of those moments, and we’re not about to miss the chance to show this company what we’re made of,” said Keith Hubbard, a warehouse worker at Sysco Syracuse and member of Local 317. “We have created a movement, and it’s spreading like wildfire. Sysco better wise up and realize what they are up against.”
We encourage all of our readers and supporters to show up on the picket lines to support this struggle. Teamsters have set up a hardship fund, which we hope readers will contribute to. Here is the appeal from the union: “A hardship fund has been established for striking Sysco Teamsters and their families and in less than 24 hours $100,000 was raised by Teamster locals around the country. Any contributions to help these heroic members stand up to a greedy corporate giant are greatly appreciated!”
Sysco Teamsters Assistance Fund: Hosted by Labor/United Way affiliated 501c3 “Working Partnerships.” Checks should be made out to “Working Partnerships” with the complete name of the fund or “SYSCO” in the memo line. Send to: Working Partnerships, 312 Central Avenue Ste 542, Minneapolis, MN 55414. Attn: SYSCO Teamsters Assistance Fund. For questions, contact Doug Flateau: firstname.lastname@example.org
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