Drivers at the largest food service distributor in New England are on strike, interrupting deliveries to hospitals, colleges, retirement homes, sports facilities, and restaurants around the region. About 300 union drivers walked off the job at the Sysco Boston warehouse in Plympton starting Saturday at midnight, demanding wage increases for all workers, a revived pension plan, and the assurance that they can remain on the Teamsters Local 653 health insurance plan.
The scope of the disruption is unclear so far. Normally, about 140 trucks go out a day, each carrying between 19,000 and 40,000 pounds of food, union officials said, but only a few dozen of those deliveries had been made by replacement drivers as of midday Monday. Some customers were coming to the warehouse in Plympton to pick up orders themselves. Sysco Boston serves Fenway Park, TD Garden, Gillette Stadium, Cumberland Farms, Wahlburgers, Jersey Mike’s Subs, and many other customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, the union said. The warehouse stocks 13,000 products for restaurant and food service customers, according to the company’s website.
The St. Raphael Parish School in Medford sent out a note to families noting that the Wednesday lunch menu would be changed from hot dogs to turkey and cheese sandwiches due to the Sysco work stoppage. A Fenway Park spokeswoman said there had been no issues related to the strike.
Sysco said that it had offered a wage increase of 25 percent over the life of the contract, noting that drivers in Boston are on track to earn an average of nearly $110,000 this year, and also proposed a company health care plan that was more affordable than what workers currently have. Workers weren’t allowed to vote on the offer before a strike was declared, the company said.
Sysco drivers in Syracuse are also on strike, and the company said both locations were operating with third-party support.
“The work stoppages at these companies is unnecessary and union leaders have taken this action with little regard for the damage it will cause to our associates and our customers,” the company said in a statement. “We respect and care about our associates and truly value the critical role they play every day.”
Michael Clark, Local 653 secretary-treasurer, said the wage increase was only offered to Class A drivers who operate tractor-trailers, who make up the majority of drivers, not to the approximately 50 Class B, shuttle, and van drivers. Sysco was also proposing that the drivers leave the union’s health insurance and revert to the company’s plan, Clark said, noting that the company’s copays were so high, “if you got sick you were going bankrupt.” The union is also demanding pensions for drivers, which the company did away with about 10 years ago, Clark said.
“It seemed to me their last, best, and final offer was just a big middle finger,” he said. “They weren’t taking us seriously.”
Rather than call workers in to vote on an “absolutely ridiculous” offer, Clark said, a secret ballot was taken to give the bargaining committee the authority to declare a strike.
The striking workers deserve to have a pension and decent health insurance considering the physically taxing work they do unloading tens of thousands of pounds of food a day, said Local 653 organizer Bryan Voci who was a Sysco driver for five years.
“A lot of these guys are broken by the time they’re 60,” Voci said. “We’re not going to be bullied into a weak contract just because [the company wants] to keep getting richer.”
Workers also deserve shorter days, said driver Daniel Rivera, 36, who often starts work around 3 or 4 a.m. and doesn’t get home until 7 or 8 p.m. Even though drivers are capped at 70 hours of drive time a week, he said, they often work longer helping other drivers. Rivera, who lives in Middleborough, has four children who are sometimes aren’t awake when he leaves and asleep again by the time he gets home. “Some days, I don’t see them,” he said.
A meeting between the union and the company is scheduled for Wednesday.
Diti Kohli of the Globe staff contributed to this report.