OLATHE, Kan. - Thursday morning dozens of Sysco delivery drivers in Olathe traded their trucks for picket signs. The group of 38 went on strike to highlight what it called "unfair labor practices" by the food distributor.
Driver Mike Burner said the group voted in December 2014 to unionize as part of the Teamsters Local 41. Since then, he said Sysco has not offered agreeable terms to even form a first contract between the two sides. Meanwhile, Burner said the company has placed its employees in harm's way and doesn't give them a voice in the workplace.
"It's sad it has to come to this," Burner described the strike. "These guys work hard, we have a very high turnover rate. For the company just not to come to the table and really negotiate, it's upsetting."
Burner said a fair contract would include better pay, better healthcare and safer working conditions for employees.
Sysco is the world's largest food distributor. Trucks leaving the Olathe facility deliver food to restaurants, schools, hospitals and other businesses.
In a statement, Sysco countered the union's claims saying it offered "wages and benefits that are competitive" and is committed to negotiating a fair contract.
The union chose to strike Thursday because Sysco hosts its annual shareholders meeting in Houston on Friday. The drivers wanted to put pressure on the corporation while its investors are paying attention. Burner said the group is prepared to strike through the weekend.
With the 38 Olathe employees who unionized now on strike, some of the facility's deliveries may be delayed. Burner and his fellow drivers hope that gets the company's attention.
"Most of these places have a two, maybe three day supply of food they get from us," Burner said. "If we're not working and delivering that affects a lot of people."
Although, Sysco can hire non-union drivers to fill the void.
The Teamsters Local 41 president said even for people who don't rely on Sysco deliveries, this issue impacts more than the 38 union member employees.
"If anybody is out there working for a living, they just want to have a voice and have somebody listen. This is part of the process. This is the message we're sending: our drivers, their employees, want to go in and have a voice in their workplace," Ralph Stubbs explained.
Below is Sysco's full statement:
At Sysco, we value our teams and have a long history of working collaboratively with our unions. Since we began negotiations with the Teamsters Local 41, we have met on multiple occasions, working in good faith to negotiate a contract. Throughout our negotiations, we have offered Teamsters Local 41 wages and benefits that are competitive. We are committed to continued constructive discussions to ensure an outcome that best positions our associates and the Company for long-term success.