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Teamsters briefly strike at food distributor Sysco in Atlanta

A brief worker strike at food distributor Sysco left numerous Atlanta restaurants scrambling last week.

Most of the 400 Teamsters belonging to Local 528 members at Sysco's College Park distribution center were back at work late Saturday after a walk-out that began two days earlier.

Pickets went up around 5:45 p.m. Thursday night. 

“We are on strike to protest Sysco’s attempt to bully us,” said warehouse worker Kip Cortez in a prepared statement after the walkout began. 

That protest was intended to be short-lived, Maurice Cobb,  president of the local, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

"There is no excuse for Sysco management to violate these workers' rights,” he said. “The company needs to let these workers talk to each other about what they want in their new contract and why they joined the Teamsters Union." 

Cobb said that the union for years was permitted to speak about its benefits at orientation meetings for new employees. 

“All of a sudden, there was new local management and we were told that if we mention anything about the union, we'd be escorted from the property,” he said.

The Teamsters are currently in negotiations with the company for a new contract. The previous pact with Sysco expired March 31, Cobb said.

Sysco’s Atlanta-based director of business resources and marketing Robert Allison, referred comments to its corporate office in Houston. 

After the walkout started, Camilla Zuckero, Sysco’s senior director for investor relations and external communications sent a statement to the AJC. 

“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 528, we have met on multiple occasions, working in good faith to negotiate a contract,” the statement read. “Throughout our negotiations, we have offered Teamsters Local 528 wages and benefits that are competitive. We are committed to continued constructive discussions to ensure an outcome that best positions our associates, customers and the Company for long-term success.” 

Zuckero said Monday that the workers were back on the job.

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As the Teamsters and Sysco battle it out, local restaurants are caught in the middle as they focus on ensuring that they have enough product to serve patrons. 

According to Allison, a letter was sent to customers informing them of the situation. Not all customers received it. 

Ben Horgan, Twain’s Brew Pub general manager and partner at the Comet bowling alley, learned of the situation via another food distribution purveyor. After calling his local Sysco representative, he was informed that “half the warehouse was on strike” and that he could “drive down to the warehouse by the airport and that they would have what we needed today.” 

Arriving at the warehouse, Horgan estimates that he was among between 30 and 60 other people making a similar pickup. 

“Our customers won’t notice anything,” Horgan said. 

But for him, like other restaurant employees, the unexpected food pick-up threw his day for a loop. “I’m just now getting into work. I should have been here four hours ago. I had to go well out of the way to make sure our customers won’t notice there was a huge hiccup.”

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