Teamsters at Sysco strike over wages, barbaric schedules

By Amy Husk
April 17, 2023
Over 250 members of Teamsters Local 117 in Seattle went out April 2 in solidarity with Sysco workers on strike in Louisville and Indianapolis for higher wages, livable work schedules.
Teamsters Local 117Over 250 members of Teamsters Local 117 in Seattle went out April 2 in solidarity with Sysco workers on strike in Louisville and Indianapolis for higher wages, livable work schedules.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nearly 300 workers, members of Teamsters Local 89 and Local 135, went on strike March 27 at Sysco here and in Indianapolis. Couple day solidarity strikes spread to California and Washington. Sysco is the largest food distributor worldwide, reporting $60.1 billion in sales in 2022.

A hundred truck drivers in Louisville joined the Teamsters union local last August and have been negotiating with Sysco for a contract. They rejected the company’s self-proclaimed “last, best and final offer” by a nearly 9-1 margin.

Sysco here delivers to dozens of restaurants and businesses, including the Jefferson County Public Schools.

“Quality of life is the main issue in this strike,” Trey McCutcheon, a business agent for Local 89, told this Militant worker-correspondent. “They push these guys to the point of exhaustion. They start early in the morning and work 16-hour days,” sometimes six days a week.

“Sysco claims they are offering good raises. But they don’t say that these drivers haven’t had a raise in four years,” he said. “Drivers at Sysco, who are required to get a commercial driver’s license, start at around $24 an hour. Most other companies in the area pay $28 or $29.”

Driver Mike McCullum was on the picket line energetically helping to lead the chants. He’s worked for Sysco for almost a year. “The main issues are better pay and working conditions,” he said. “They work us 68 to 70 hours a week regularly. Safety standards are very low. I helped get workers to sign up for the union. It didn’t take much convincing because the conditions were so bad.”

The Teamsters union represents more than 10,000 Sysco workers nationwide. This is the second national strike action the union has organized against Sysco recently. In October 2022 workers went on strike for nearly three weeks to win contracts for over 800 members in Arizona; Syracuse, New York; and Plympton, Massachusetts.

Every location has its own contract, McCutcheon said. “The strike in California is a solidarity action. We sent out workers to get a picket line going in California.”

Fremont picket line

“The only people working inside the plant right now are managers and probationary employees who could lose their jobs if they walked out,” Hannah Bernardson, a Teamsters union staffer from Indianapolis, told the Militant in Fremont, California.

“Three people came here from Indianapolis — myself and two others,” she said. “At least 150 workers walked off the job here. We are asking workers to show their solidarity by honoring our picket.

“Our team and another team of Teamsters union members from Louisville are traveling across the country,” Bernardson said. “Yesterday the team from Louisville picketed the Oxnard plant in Southern California and shut it down. Typically these actions last a couple of days. We plan to go to other cities but we are not saying which ones.”

Jim Dunham, a Sysco truck driver from Indianapolis, said, “There are 80 Sysco plants. Thirty-one are organized. Nine of the organized plants have had to go on strike to get a contract. It wasn’t like this before. I’ve worked for Sysco for 27 years and this is the first time I’ve been on strike.”

Strikers win widespread solidarity

This Militant correspondent met up with Teamsters Local 89 members from FireKing in New Albany, Indiana, at the Sysco picket line in Louisville. They won a strike in July 2022 after 12 weeks on the picket line. Dale Beanblossom, Heather Hurley and Reese Funkhouser, all of whom I met on the picket line at FireKing, greeted me and gave me an update on what had happened after the strike was won.

“They fired me and two other workers as soon as the strike was over,” said Beanblossom. “But we fought and won all three jobs back. And then I was elected head shop steward.”

“Lots of people came out to support us when we were on strike,” said Hurley, “so now we’re out supporting others.”

Many unionists and other supporters have been by the picket line to bring solidarity. The day I was there, the Painters Union had dropped off pizzas.

To send support to strikers, contact Local 89 at (502) 368-5885 and Local 135 at (317) 639-3541.

Jeff Powers contributed to this article from Fremont, California.