September 25, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – City Council hearings on a bill to protect grocery store workers from being abruptly fired will be held on September 25, at 10 a.m. If passed, the Grocery Worker Retention Act [GWR] could help shield the tens of thousands low-level employees caught up in New York City’s spasming supermarket industry.
The current climate of big chain mergers and buyouts too often results in the termination of longtime employees, and has put NYC’s more than 50,000 grocery store workers in increasing jeopardy. But GWR is attempting to at least staunch the bleeding by instituting a 90-day moratorium on firings subsequent to an established supermarket being newly acquired or absorbed.
Such takeovers impact the lowest-paid employees the hardest. About two-thirds of all employees working in NYC’s supermarket industry are immigrants.
There are, however, significant limitations to the proposed measure which the Committee on Civil Service & Labor will take up on Friday morning inside the 16th Floor Committee Room at 250 Broadway.
Firstly, employees must have been on the job at least six months prior to a takeover or merger to qualify for protections. Secondly, and most importantly, the GWR would only apply to giant supermarkets with 10,000 square feet or more of grocery department space.
Supporters of the bill expressed concern that the threshold for protections might, indeed, be too high when the act emerged back in January.
At the time, Councilman Daniel Dromm [D-25th District] told LaborPress, “As many workers that we can cover would be my objective, but it’s a good starting point.”
Organized labor is supportive of the effort to at least begin protecting workers.
“Grocery workers should not be discarded like spoiled produce when a new employer takes over their store,” RWDSU head Stuart Applebaum said in a statement. “This legislation would ensure that workers and their families are protected during the transition period.”