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Teamsters strike at Sysco plant in Des Plaines could affect CPS food deliveries

The union cites a lack of progress in talks with the food service firm that started in January.

Striking members of Teamsters Local 703, flanked by “Scabby the Rat” inflatable balloons used at union protests, form a picket line Tuesday outside Sysco in Des Plaines.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Warehouse workers represented by the Teamsters union have gone on strike against food service company Sysco in Des Plaines, potentially disrupting deliveries to Chicago and suburban schools and hospitals.

The employees are members of Teamsters Local 703, which said its last contract expired in February 2020. It was temporarily extended because of the pandemic, but talks that started in January of this year have yielded almost no progress, the union said.

Peter Peluso, Sysco’s Great Lakes region president, said the company is disappointed the workers walked out “in our customers’ time of great need.” He said the strike stems from a union desire to insert “illegal language” into the contract and is not tied to pay, benefits or working conditions.

He said the company will bring in outside workers, including some from other Sysco locations, to serve customers. In a statement posted Monday on Facebook, Peluso said many deliveries will be affected throughout the week.

Jake Berent, a spokesman for Local 703, said Sysco serves the Chicago Public Schools and Naval Station Great Lakes among other large clients.

CPS spokesman James Gherardi wrote in an emailed statement that the district has “not had any food shortages at all and do not anticipate any at this time.” He said, “We are monitoring the situation and working with our vendors though to ensure all schools have food.” One CPS elementary school principal said they didn’t have enough food to feed all their students Tuesday, but it wasn’t clear if that was tied to the Teamsters strike.

Local 703 Vice President Pat Bruno said in a statement that the dispute indeed involves wages. He said Kevin Hourican, CEO of Houston-based Sysco, has called his employees “heroes” for providing service in the pandemic, but the company won’t offer a fair wage increase. He said workers made concessions to help the company after the pandemic hit.

Berent said the strike involves about 125 workers. He said 99% of the members authorized the strike, and that roughly 100 drivers for another Teamsters local who visit the Des Plaines location, 250 Wieboldt Drive, are honoring the picket line.

He would not speculate on the company’s argument about “illegal language.”

“There’s just been a lot of turnover with management. We’ve been subjected to long delays in trying to get anything done,” he said.