March 14, 2013
An unfair labor practice strike against Queens County’s Trade Fair supermarket chain quickly became a lockout on Wednesday afternoon when the manager of the store located at 75-07 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights informed meat department employees and their United Food and Commercial Workers [UFCW] Local 342 representatives, that the workers had been unceremoniously “replaced.” (Read More/Watch Video)
Provocative “Help Wanted” signs and placards designed to win over public support immediately went up in front of the 24-hour supermarket located between 75th and 76th streets just hours after meat department workers began picketing the store at 6 a.m. on March 13.
“You may be aware of disruptions in our store created by our meat department workers and their union,” the well-made placards declared. “We are proud of our reputation providing the best prices in the neighborhood. We are also proud that we provide top-notch wages, fringes and working conditions.”
The same signs go on to explain how Trade Fair needs to keep its costs “competitive with other non-union stores in the neighborhood” in order to continue providing “top quality meats at fair, competitive prices.”
But UFCW negotiators have been trying for over a year to get Trade Fair and its controversial CEO Farid Jaber to agree to a fair contract. The supermarket chain’s 100 meat department employees have actually been working without any type of contract since the last one expired in October of 2012.
Wednesday’s strike and subsequent lockout followed a confrontation that the UFCW and New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm had one day prior with a 37th Avenue Trade Fair manager who was upset that they were there talking to unhappy meat department employees about poor working conditions at the site.
That same manager also refused to talk to LaborPress when asked about workers’ allegations that since speaking out in support of a fair contract, they have become the constant targets of intimidation, threats and harassment.
“The workers were looking to go back to work unconditionally, but the employer refused to let them go back on the job, so it turns into a lockout,” UFCW representative John Pierman said. “We’ll continue to struggle. Until we get a contract, nothing has really changed.”
In the meantime, public support has become pivotal as contract talks between the union and Fair Trade continue to sputter. Both sides are now actively engaged in eliciting shoppers’ confidence. Customers that LaborPress spoke to this week indicated that while they certainly enjoy patronizing Trade Fair, they still think management has an obligation to compensate employees fairly.
“They should be entitled to better benefits and salary,” East Elmhurst shopper Margaret Garlathy said. “It’s hard to make a living nowadays. They sell good food, they should treat their workers good.”
Meat department workers at the 37th Avenue Trade Fair store were unfazed about being “replaced,” vowing instead to continue leafletting and picketing outside the supermarket until a contract is ultimately signed, and they are allowed to return to work.
“We need them to continue to stay strong and continue the fight,” Pierman said.