(The Center Square) – A Philadelphia union faces legal action after a New Jersey-based food distributor claims an impending strike violates its collective bargaining agreement.
J. Ambrosi Food Distribution filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania last week alleging that officials from Teamsters Local 929 harassed its workers and threatened their jobs if they refused to participate in a strike planned for the week of May 2.
The union organized the strike, according to the complaint, after employees from JAF partner Kristy’s Kuts signed a petition in February in support of ending their Teamsters representation at the expiration of the current contract, set for June 30, 2022.
Rocky Bryan Jr. told The Center Square his union has represented about 200 JAF employees for almost three decades. He believes the workers at Kristy's Kuts were coerced into signing the petition and don't understand the ramifications.
"They [JAF] will pay those workers scab wages," he said, noting that unions represent workers all throughout the region. "It undermines area standards."
Bryan says organizing the picket line is about protecting the benefits and wages his union has fought so hard to preserve.
The 125-page filing from JAF details multiple incidents during which Rocky Bryan and the union’s recording secretary, John Bryan, confronted Kristy’s Kuts truck drivers and caused “stoppages of work,” another alleged violation of the CBA.
In one instance dating back to March 25, Rocky Bryan blocked the entrance to a Kristy’s Kuts facility with his car and told the truck driver trying to enter that he “was stealing union jobs” and that he “was planning to shut down” JAF.
In a March 19 incident, John Bryan yelled at a different worker for stealing a union job and used his forearm to prevent the man from shutting his truck door and unloading product.
About a month later, both Kristy’s Kuts and JAF received notice from the union of a pending strike scheduled to begin May 2. At the voting meeting, set for April 25, the complaint alleges that Rocky Bryan threatened to fine employees in attendance “thousands of dollars” if they didn’t participate in the strike and said he would boot them from the union and block their chances of other securing another unionized position in the future.
Rocky Bryan disputes this claim and said he "never intimidated anyone."
"It was not intimidation," he said. "It was education."
He said Friday that he will move forward with the picket line beginning on May 2 as planned.
JAF said the strike would cost the company up to $4 million, mostly due to the perishable nature of its product and loss of customers.
The company asked the court for monetary damages, the cost of legal fees and judgements that confirm the strike and harassment incidents violated the CBA.
The National Right to Work Foundation released a notice on Thursday outlining employees’ legal rights to reject the strike and keep working.
“This situation raises serious concerns for employees who believe there is much to lose from a union boss-ordered strike,” the notice reads. “Employees have the legal right to rebuff union officials’ strike demands, but it is important for them to be fully informed before they do so.”
President Mark Mix said the foundation would provide free legal aid “in defending their rights against this coercive Teamsters boss campaign.”