November 25, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
Charging that four Staten Island supermarket workers were illegally fired after they signed union-authorization cards, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342 has filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
The union alleges that the owner of the Key Food supermarket at 155 Bay St. fired the four, workers in the meat and seafood department, in October, after he found out they wanted to join the union.
“The same people who signed these cards all got fired within a week,” says Kate Meckler, Local 342’s director of communications. “It’s too much of a coincidence.”
The store opened in June. The first supermarket in the area southeast of the Staten Island Ferry terminal, it drew praise for opening in an “underserved” area, between the new luxury apartments on the waterfront in St. George and the hills of Tompkinsville, an older, working-class neighborhood that’s home to many immigrants from Mexico and Sri Lanka.
Local 342 began handing out flyers outside it Nov. 21, urging customers not to shop there “until the owners bring back the fired workers and recognize the rights of all of their Staten Island employees.”
“They weren’t treated fairly. A lot of them were getting paid in cash, they weren’t getting proper paychecks. They weren’t getting breaks,” says Meckler. “Other Key Food workers who have contracts get to take their breaks. They can enforce their rights.”
Many Key Food stores in the metropolitan area are union, including three in Queens believed to be owned by the family that owns the Bay Street store. The unions representing workers include Local 342, the UFCW’s Local 1500, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 338.
“We’ve had a lot of support,” says Meckler. The union plans to continue leafleting.