Staff at a United Natural Foods depot in Washington state remain on strike after reigniting protests against the US food distributor.

Workers at the UNFI site in Auburn had ended their industrial action over pay and alleged violations of labour laws on Wednesday (12 December) after a three-day walkout.

Talks between the Teamsters union and UNFI had been scheduled for this Thursday but workers went back out on strike late last week and protests continued yesterday.

The Teamsters union said UNFI had replaced 72 warehouse staff who had taken part in the action. Under US labour law, staff holding industrial action over unfair labour practices cannot be permanently replaced, the union said.

"The company's action to replace its employees is retaliatory, unlawful and frankly despicable," Teamsters official Tracey Thompson said.

UNFI, which supplies natural and organic food to retailers including Whole Foods Market, said it had had to bring in staff from outside the depot as a result of the union's decision to continue the strike.

The distributor said it had used staff from other sites and hired 72 replacement workers.

"The Union was well aware that a strike at the busiest time of the year would leave UNFI no choice but to hire replacement associates so we could continue to serve our customers. Yet the Union chose to put its own interests over the interests of its membership and ordered a strike," UNFI president Sean Griffin said on Friday. "The Union has continued to mischaracterise UNFI by falsely blaming the company for the consequences of their decision."