Striking Teamsters Cause Food Distribution Headaches at Denver Restaurants

Sysco Denver employees picket during a Teamsters strike on November 18, 2019.
Sysco Denver employees picket during a Teamsters strike on November 18, 2019.
Courtesy Teamsters Local 455
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Cooks, servers and restaurant managers get credit for putting food on your table every time you go out to eat, but all of that food comes from somewhere. Behind the scenes, warehouse workers and truck drivers make sure that raw ingredients make it from distributors to restaurant kitchens. When that link in the supply chain is broken, especially on short notice, restaurant owners are left scrambling for solutions.

That's what's happening all over Denver, as Teamsters Union members working at Sysco Denver went on an "unfair labor practice strike" starting at 6 p.m. Sunday, November 17, according to the Teamsters Local 455 website.

Jeff Osaka, owner of Sushi-Rama, says he found out about the strike shortly after that. "The only contingency plan we have is to directly pick up at the respective warehouses," Osaka notes. "Luckily, we have a company van to handle most bulk orders, but it will most likely be me who will be handling deliveries."

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs is experiencing similar inconveniences, according to founder Jim Pittenger, who says that while it's certainly a pain, it's not an unmanageable one. There was "not a lot of advance notice," he adds. "My Sysco rep is scrambling to make stuff as accessible as possible. I had relationships prior with most of my vendors, so in this kind of a situation, we will be okay."

"We purchase from Shamrock," notes Elliot Schiffer, CEO of Mici Handcrafted Italian, which operates six metro Denver restaurants. "The only effect on us is that our food reps are very busy fielding calls from panicked Sysco customers that need food."

"Our rep has been super-great at trying to work it out with us, but obviously it’s been a hassle for the day, for sure," says Jennifer Peters, owner of Just Be Kitchen, who adds that staffers had to make warehouse runs to stock up on food in addition to doing their standard jobs at the restaurant.

Here's the message that Sysco Denver sent out late November 17:

To Our Valued Customers,
Sysco Denver associates work hard each day to ensure the success of our customers. Unfortunately, Sysco Denver is currently experiencing a work stoppage by members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 455 who represent our warehouse, drivers and fleet associates.

We are making every effort to maintain our scheduled deliveries and minimize the impact of this situation on our customers.

Sysco is committed to bargain in good faith. We are actively negotiating to reach a settlement on a new contract and have a long history of achieving this goal. Sysco provides a competitive compensation and benefits package to our associates.

If you, or anyone from your organization, learns of something during this time that causes concern, please call, email me, or contact your MA. We remain committed to working through issues promptly and effectively with the least amount of impact to you, our valued customer.

Thank you for your continued support.

Bill Mikulka
Sysco Denver

The contract between Sysco Denver and Teamsters Local 455 expired at midnight October 31, after union members voted to reject a proposed new contract, according to an International Brotherhood of Teamsters press release. The contract covered more than 300 warehouse workers and drivers.

"Members rejected the company's contract proposal, in part, because it threatens the safety of workers and the commuting public by placing performance standards on drivers," said Steve Vairma, Teamsters Local 455 secretary-treasurer, in the release.

We reached out to Teamsters representatives for additional information about the anticipated length of the strike and the specific contract demands; we'll update this post if and when we hear back.

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