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Foodlink employees demand union representation


Foodlink's Mount Read Avenue headquarters. - PHOTO BY ALEX CRICHTON / WXXI NEWS
  • Foodlink's Mount Read Avenue headquarters.
For exactly one year, Foodlink's Community Advocacy Specialist Tom Silva and a few dozen of his co-workers have been working on a plan to unionize their workplace.

“We believe that having a union in the workplace, that gives people a real voice — a legally protected process to discuss the terms of our employment — will make it easier for us to stick around,” said Silva. "It will make it easier to find their place in the workplace and will make it easier for them to invest here in the long term.”

Silva, who has spent six years at the Finger Lakes region’s largest foodbank, is a part of a group called Foodlink United. It argues that unionization is needed for a number of reasons, including increased demand for food services, health risks from COVID-19, and chronic understaffing. Silva mentioned wanting representation to  weigh in on employee benefits, time off, wages, and disputes inside the organization.

The group, which claims to represent a majority of rank-and-file employees at Foodlink, is working with Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153. OPEIU Local 153 represents about 13,000 people, including employees at the Feeding America Foodbank in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The reaction from management  was “cordial,” Silva said. He was quick to say that he does not want retaliation against the organization, even going so far to encourage donations to Foodlink’s annual holiday campaign.

“This campaign is for the workers,” said Silva. “It is for us to have another tool to advocate in the workplace, and it is certainly not against the organization. It is not against the management.”

A statement from Foodlink CEO and President Julia Tedesco emphasized “direct dialog” and argued that employees don’t need that tool. The statement claimed that in recent years the organization has increased wages, began covering the entirety of employee health and dental insurance premiums, and made other efforts improve the work life experience for employees.

“Unions serve an important role to protect workers, particularly in companies where profit is the bottom line and people are not put first,” Tedesco’s statement said. “Although I do not believe we need a union to accomplish our shared goals, I hear, respect, and honor the voices of those team members who feel differently. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to ensure that every voice is heard.”

When asked how he’d react if Foodlink management chose not to work with the union, Silva said he believes they ultimately will.

“I believe that management wants to be able to work with people and we are confident that they are going to come to the table to work with us," said Silva.

If management does not recognize the union by Thursday, Oct. 28, at 5 p.m., they expect to file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.