About 160 truck drivers and warehouse employees working for food distribution giant Sysco in Indianapolis are poised to strike if contract negotiations fail. The workers’ union, Teamsters Local 135, alleges the company has failed to negotiate a contract in good faith so far.
“We have had seven sessions, if you will, across the table from the company. We were not getting anywhere,” said Jeff Sperring, Local 135 business agent and co-chair of negotiations. “So we decided to convene our group, let them know how everything was going as far as the negotiations were and took that strike authorization vote after that meeting.”
The union is seeking a contract that gives workers better wages and benefits as well as addresses long work hours for truck drivers.
“On a daily basis, our drivers are forced, if you will, to work more than 12 hours a day and consistently working 60-70 hours a week,” Sperring said. “They don't have much time for their families. And we're trying to curtail that somewhat.”
The company declined an interview request. But in a written statement, a spokesperson said Sysco “intend[s] to provide competitive pay and benefits for our colleagues while balancing the needs of our business and customers.”
Members voted unanimously for the authorization, Sperring said, after being told that Sysco was refusing the union’s contract proposal without explanation. The union alleges company negotiators left the bargaining committee waiting in a lobby for seven hours on Friday, March 10, which was supposed to be the last day of negotiations.
“We had requested the company give us the last, best and final offer to take to the membership to vote by the end of bargaining on Friday and that they didn't give anything not even close to any kind of offer to them,” said Tim Courtney, who is also a business agent and co-chair of negotiations for the union.
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In the written statement, Sysco also denied allegations of bad-faith negotiations.
“Sysco Indianapolis has, and will continue, to bargain in good faith with Teamsters Local 135,” a spokesperson said in the statement. “We have not reached an agreement to date due to the unreasonable demands by the union leadership.”
A strike authorization vote does not guarantee a strike will happen, it just gives the union the ability to call for a strike in the future. On Tuesday, Courtney and Sperring told Indiana Public Broadcasting they were still negotiating with the company and had no specific deadline to receive a contract before they use the vote to call for a strike.
“So we're back at the table today. And I guess we're hopeful that the company’s changed their way of thinking a little bit,” Cortney said. “We'd like to get some forward movement and maybe even take an offer to the membership to actually vote. If [Sysco is] going to continue to go down this dark road they're going down, then we'll have to continue to go down that same road.”
One of the main points of contention is over the number of hours truck drivers are spending on the road, the union negotiators say.
“When the driver goes out with the truck, he has to bring it back empty,” Courtney said. “They've overloaded the trucks to a point where it takes 12 to 14 hours on a consecutive basis to get the truck empty and get the job done to be able to get home.”
The union is not seeking to limit the number of hours drivers can be on the road in this contract, he said. But they are trying to get the company to increase its workforce to help reduce the load on individual drivers. Barring that, the union at least wants better wages.
“If they're going to force that time away from their families we’d at least like them to be compensated well for it,” Courtney said.