Covid concerns lead to strike authorization at Veritiv facility
TUKWILA, Wash. (News release) -- Warehouse workers at Veritiv, represented by Teamsters 117, have voted unanimously to authorize a strike. The strike authorization vote was taken by employees at the packaging giant's facility in Kent, WA and comes after three months of unsuccessful contract negotiations and a number of COVID-related health and safety concerns raised by workers.
During negotiations the company implemented COVID-19 policies without fulfilling its legal obligation to bargain with the union, then violated its own health and safety policies. Visitors and customers were not required to wear protective masks while visiting the warehouse, putting employees at risk of infection. Managers were observed in the warehouse without appropriate PPE as recommended by the CDC and in violation of company policy.
"I asked management when we would get a sign on the front door for inbound drivers requiring them to wear a mask. That didn't get posted for several months," said Kevin Timme, a 16-year employee, shop steward, and member of Local 117's bargaining committee. "They don't even enforce it now. Guys are walking in the door unmasked, and they don't do anything about it. That's putting our health and safety at risk."
At the bargaining table, Veritiv rejected Local 117's safety proposal requiring the company to ensure that employees not be allowed to operate unsafe equipment in the warehouse. They also rejected a union proposal to protect employees from infectious disease in the event of a future pandemic.
"There needs to be something in the contract that protects us during a pandemic when we get sick and have to be out of work," Timme said. "They ignore safety just to get the work done. My co-worker was forced to get on equipment that he hadn't been trained on. He ended up with back spasms."
With $1.8 billion in sales in the third quarter of 2021, Veritiv's website boasts "the best earnings...of any quarter in company history" yet the company has proposed wage increases of only .15 cents annually and shifting a higher percentage of healthcare costs to essential employees who have worked through the pandemic.
"Veritiv's proposals with respect to pay and health and welfare are an insult to essential workers," said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters 117. "The company has skirted its legal obligation to bargain and violated its own COVID policies, putting the health of our members and their families at risk. By unanimously authorizing a strike, Teamsters at Veritiv have sent an unequivocal message that they are prepared to withhold their labor to fight for safe working conditions and respect."
Drivers at Veritiv who work out of the Kent facility are represented by Teamsters 174. They are also currently in contract negotiations with the company and have voted unanimously to authorize a strike.