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Sysco strike continues after talks break down

More than 230 workers in Syracuse have been on strike for more than a week.Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Talks between Sysco and the Teamsters broke down Wednesday after more than six hours of negotiations, leaving more than 300 drivers in Plympton on strike and continuing the disruption of food deliveries to schools, hospitals, and restaurants that began over the weekend.

More than 230 Sysco workers in Syracuse are also on strike.

“Sysco pushes its workers to the physical brink as if they were disposable robots,” Sean M. O’Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters — former head of Teamsters Local 25 in Boston — said in a statement. “No longer will we allow this company to churn workers and then throw them away.”

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The drivers at Sysco Boston, members of Teamsters Local 653, are demanding pay increases for all workers, a revived pension plan, and the assurance that they can remain on the union’s health insurance plan.

The company upped its wage offer to a 32 percent increase over the life of the contract and agreed to let workers stay in the union healthcare plan, with an increased contribution from the company but refused to let them join the union’s pension plan, which it called “critically underfunded.” The workers currently have a 401(k) plan with guaranteed annual contributions and a company match.

“The Teamsters’ agenda is aimed at gaining attention and promoting the interests of the union leadership,” Sysco said in a statement. “It will disrupt thousands of small businesses, hospitals may struggle to get their orders, children who rely on schools for their meals may not get them and the nation’s supply chain will be further stressed.”

Michael Clark, Local 653 secretary-treasurer, said the wage increase Sysco offered the union at the negotiating table was lower than the amount sent directly to drivers. The company also didn’t disclose that its health insurance contribution would change over time and end up costing workers more.

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“They’re trying to cause division,” he said. “Basically, they put lipstick on a pig.”

Normally, about 140 trucks a day leave the Plympton warehouse, each carrying between 19,000 and 40,000 pounds of food, union officials said. The Plympton warehouse 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 company brought in replacement drivers to replace the striking workers, and some customers have been driving to the warehouse in Plympton to pick up orders themselves.

Cumberland Farms said Thursday it doesn’t expect any major disruptions or changes to its stores.

Sysco has 58,000 employees and 343 distribution facilities around the world, serving more than 650,000 customer locations. But nearly half its frontline workers have been on the job for less than a year, the Teamsters noted, citing a recent earnings call. The chief executive told investors he was committed to improving retention, the union said, but the company’s offer to workers is “just another corporate bait and switch.”

In a statement to the Globe, Sysco said: “Sysco Boston is like a family and it’s sad to see what the Teamsters are doing to divide the family and hurt our customers and community.”

No further negotiations have been scheduled.

Diti Kohli of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.