Grocery sales boomed during the worst of the pandemic. The parent company of Cub Foods, Rhode Island-headquartered United Natural Foods Inc., enjoyed double-digit sales gains, reports this laudatory Star Tribune profile of the company's CEO, Mike Stigers.
Workers don't seem to think those gains are being shared equitably. On Saturday, workers at 30+ Twin Cities Cub locations staged a "day of action," according to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 663 President Rena Wong, with indoor and outdoor rallies, leafleting, signage, and speeches.
"Respect us! Protect us! Pay us!" workers shouted inside one supermarket.
Wong's Brooklyn Center-based union represents around 3,000 metro Cub Foods workers, whose contract expired over the weekend. UFCW Local 663 and UNFI are currently negotiating a contract for the first time; UNFI purchased Cub's former parent company, Supervalu, five years ago. The company's initial contract offer fell far short in terms of wages, Wong reports.
“The proposals that the employers made were just really disrespectful to what the workers have lived through and worked through to keep Minnesota fed during the pandemic," she says. "These are frontline workers who are heroes—they really sacrificed to keep our state running.”
How unified are workers around the sentiment that the current contract offer stinks?
“You see it from the photos and the videos: Our members are fired up," Wong says. "They know they deserve better than this.”
Mike Wilken, a PR manager with UNFI, took issue with Saturday's rallying, telling Racket:
"Despite Cub’s strong offer on key issues—enhanced store safety and security initiatives, fair and reasonable wage increases, comprehensive employer-funded health care, and Cub’s commitment to an underfunded union legacy pension plan—the union engaged its members to participate in counterproductive short walkouts at multiple store locations on Saturday."
“Cub values its team members and remains committed to achieving a fair and competitive contract that protects both team members and their families as well as Cub and its many customers,” Stigers, the company CEO, adds in a statement.
With around 80 locations, Cub remains the king of the Twin Cities grocery market, despite increased flexing from non-union competitors like Iowa-based Hy-Vee, Germany-based ALDI, and locally based Target. UFCW Local 663 represents workers at around 30 UNFI-operated Cubs; a handful of franchisee shops owned by Haug and Radermacher are also under the union's umbrella.
“Historically, we’ve been able to work together with Cub to get agreements that are fair," says Wong, whose union reps around 17,000 total workers, including ones at Lunds & Byerlys, Kowalski’s, and the Seward co-op. "This year, they were just so off the mark and so tone-deaf. We could not have a normal set of negotiations given how disrespectful these first sets of proposals were.”
The two sides will return to the bargaining table Tuesday.
Love Cub's massive, delicious, budget-friendly baked goods? You should know the 200+ Cub workers with Bakery Workers Local 22 also beefed publicly with UNFI during contract negotiations last year, as reported by Workday Magazine.