A strike in suburban Chicago has pissed off restaurant owners across the city. About 125 employees at a Sysco warehouse in the northwestern suburb of Des Plaines began a work stoppage Monday morning. About 200 Sysco truck drivers joined their colleagues in their own sympathy strike, which disrupted food deliveries throughout the city.
The strike is on its second day and restaurant owners fear they will not get their normally scheduled deliveries. Sysco, the largest food distributor in North America, also serves schools and hospitals, and its representatives have told restaurant owners that these vital facilities will be prioritized. Therefore, restaurants should expect delays.
Sysco sells and delivers a variety of products to restaurants, including fresh produce, frozen items and meat. The famous burger served at Au Cheval in West Loop even uses Sysco beef patties.
Storekeepers have been working without a contract since February 2020, but the two sides resumed negotiations in January. However, the last eight months of talks have not been fruitful, leading to Monday’s strike. Members of Teamsters Local # 703 said in a press release that “almost no progress has been made due to the employer’s refusal to bargain in good faith.” The union says more than 99 percent of members voted in favor of the strike.
“These warehouse workers worked without a contract, day in and day out, keeping US schools, restaurants, hospitals and more stocked with food and supplies,” Jake Berent of Teamsters Joint Council No. 25, the regional organization which supports local unions like No. 703, Eater Chicago said. “These workers were pushed too far by the employer, and that was enough. The disrespect that Sysco shows for these workers, whom its CEO called “heroes” just a year ago, is simply disgusting. “
Sysco sent a letter to restaurant customers on Monday stating that “most deliveries will not take place today and many will be impacted for the rest of the week.” They also said they were bringing in workers from other warehouses and third parties to mitigate the impact of the strike. Management rejects the union’s allegations that it was negotiating in bad faith, sending the following statement to Eater Chicago:
We are extremely disappointed that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 703 has decided to withdraw from Sysco and our customers, at a time when our customers need us most. We believe in good faith bargaining and a key pillar of our approach is a firm belief that it is in our best interests to provide our associates with fair and competitive wages and benefits.
The union’s decision to strike is based on its insistence on including illegal terms in contract clauses. Their decision to strike is NOT based on conditions directly related to the interests of compensation, benefits or operational requirements of our associates. Through their actions, the union is shutting down our operations, sacrificing the salaries of our associates and harming our clients.
As we continue to negotiate in good faith and work towards a resolution, Sysco Chicago quickly implemented our business continuity plans to continue serving our customers.
Restaurant owners tell Eater Chicago they are nervous and worried about their long-term business if the strike continues. In the short term, they can count on finding supplies at places like Restaurant Depot and hope that Sysco’s competitors, like US Foods, can fill in service gaps. But there are also fears that workers at US Foods are choosing to strike. There are also concerns that US Foods may not be equipped to deal with an increase in order volume: the same labor shortage that affects restaurants nationwide is also affecting other adjacent industries.