To Our Customers, Suppliers, Consumers, Peers and Friends,
United Natural Foods is quite proud to be one of the largest marketers and distributors of natural, organic and specialty foods. We’ve grown over the years through a relentless commitment to improve the health of consumers by expanding organic food distribution into over 20,000 retailers throughout North America. Our purpose is to make organic food available to everyone, and do it within a very rigid set of cultural beliefs and strong ethical guidelines.
These core beliefs are built on integrity, philanthropy and sustainability, and are the cornerstones of our successes. We “live” these beliefs, as demonstrated, in part, by the following:
- UNFI workforce turnover is over 25% less than other companies in our industry
- UNFI benefit plans including medical, retirement and vacation exceed the industry standards
- UNFI associates have received above market (and inflation based) increases in each of the last 5 years, to include years 2008 and 2009, during very difficult economic times when many companies were providing no pay increases or, worse, laying off employees
- Our supplier partners have enjoyed over 10% growth in each of the last several years, in large part due to our relationship with them in which we conduct ourselves in a transparent, integrity-based manner; UNFI takes great pride in our partnership with these suppliers
- UNFI, through its Foundation and operating companies, donates over $1 million per year while continuing to donate over $6 million more in food to Feeding America and other agencies
- UNFI has invested heavily in solar energy and operates 3 large-scale solar panel arrays, with another array scheduled to go live this February
- UNFI operates clean natural gas powered tractors, hydrogen-powered fork lift equipment and continues to invest in cutting edge sustainable technologies
- UNFI is the only distributor in North America operating multiple LEED® certified refrigerated distribution centers
- We have hired over 2,000 associates over the last 4 years. Our customers have also experienced significant growth with us as a result of our terrific teams, and access to an extremely broad product and services catalog; we cherish and take great pride in our partnerships with our customers
- There are many other unique things about UNFI that make us feel terrific about our company, such as its being a family-focused company concentrating on important issues other than just growth, products and its bottom line
Regrettably, during the last several months UNFI has faced the single most difficult issue in its history. Discussions with our associates represented by the Teamsters Union in Auburn, Washington turned contentious over their contract that expired in March of 2012.
There has been considerable media attention on this issue. Sadly, most of this has been driven by the union and its affiliates, and much of it has been inaccurate and mean-spirited. We have remained largely quiet while working to professionally resolve the issues between UNFI and the union. For example, prior to the holidays, UNFI made an offer for a new contract which was consistent with raises, benefits and work rules provided to our associates around the country and was equivalent to over 10.5% in increases over 3 years. We also asked that the union guarantee that they would not authorize a strike during Thanksgiving’s busy shipping period in exchange for an extension of the current agreement through the new year. Unfortunately our offers were declined.
We have a number of responsibilities in resolving this dispute, two of which we believe are major: first, to make sure that we have fairness in our pay scale for all associates across the country, and second, to ensure that our customers receive uninterrupted service, particularly during busy holiday seasons. To blindly acquiesce and satisfy the union’s demands, which are based on nothing more than disparate comparisons of rates and other items in other non-UNFI contracts would have been irresponsible, and unfair to the other 96% of our non-union associates.
You should know that we are deeply troubled with how these events have unfolded. The union unfortunately called a strike following Thanksgiving, and UNFI was forced to hire new workers in order to continue servicing our customers in the Seattle area. Our associates (many of whom have significant tenure with us) are now without pay and without benefits. This is something that causes us great pain. Up until now we have remained quiet on this issue, choosing to work professionally with the union’s elected representatives and the bargaining process. We believe UNFI cannot remain quiet any longer.
Last week, UNFI made yet another offer to bring our workers back to work. This included a 5 year contract with retroactive pay back to March 1, 2012 with over 3% increases in each of the 5 years. There were additional offers made as well to bring closure to this terrible situation. Unfortunately, again the union rejected our offer.
Many have openly criticized our handling of the strike as unfair to the union workers, without access to all of the facts. Some have urged us to settle. We have tried hard to do so. Now we hope you can see that the issues are far more complicated. A fair and equitable solution is not as easy as “just give them what they want.”
We are extremely proud of our culture, our industry, our people, our customers, our suppliers and most importantly, our company – United Natural Foods. We do not agree with the union having called a strike, thereby causing difficulties for our associates and their families and sincerely hope for some strong and rational leadership from the union to guide it to a prompt settlement.
Steven L. Spinner
President & CEO