September 5, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
Editor’s Note: Part 2 in a series with UFCW Local 2013 President Louis Mark Carotenuto
Brooklyn NY – Key to UFCW Local 2013’s ability to throw off decades of abuse at the hands of corrupt leaders and establish itself as a new union wholly dedicated to its members, has been the powerful realization that hardworking Latino immigrants are the backbone of a strong and vital workforce. That’s why the group’s president doesn’t much appreciate the xenophobic rantings continuing to spew out of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s mouth.
“A lot of people are insulted over the whole thing,” UFCW Local 2013 President Louis Mark Carotenuto says. “My impression is that it might have started out as something that may have gotten misconstrued, but then he just went with it. He really just put his foot in his mouth time and time again after that.”
One of the first things that the new UFCW Local 2013 leadership did when it officially took over the reins a few years ago, was to reach out and connect with a largely overlooked and unappreciated Latino workforce.
Carotenuto estimates that anywhere between 35 to 40 percent of the new representatives tasked with interfacing with the membership are former shop stewards who come out of the Latino-heavy home healthcare, manufacturing and service industry worksites where Local 2013 maintains contracts.
“I think what’s been proven to us is that the Latino workforce is a tough workforce,” Carotenuto says. “I see them come in every day, bust their asses and work hard. They don’t complain a lot until it becomes unbearable. But it should not get to that. It shouldn’t get to a point where it’s unbearable and they have to say something. They’re workers, they’re people and they’re taxpayers. They add value to our society, and they should be treated as such.”
Without proper union representation, however, many of the Latino workers belonging to Local 348-S in years past, too often found themselves vulnerable to employers keen on exploiting their immigration status.
Two months ago, Local 2013 moved swiftly to file charges against Quality King Distributors on Long Island after the employer allegedly started intimidating the largely El Salvadorian workforce during negotiations.
“As the membership started to come together, the employer started bringing people in and questioning them, relative to getting updates on their immigration status,” Carotenuto says. “That was just a fear tactic. It was nothing more than that.”
The union soon staged a rally outside the jobsite and enlisted the support of local elected officials. According to Carotenuto, some hard-pressed workers had put in 15 to 20 years with the company without ever seeing a single raise.
“They just treated them as minimum wage workers,” the UFCW Local 2013 president says. “To me, that was a direct result of the previous regime not giving a damn about the workforce.”
Through the local’s efforts, however, the previously neglected workforce not only secured important new gains at the bargaining table, they also came away from negotiations with a newfound sense of pride and self-esteem.
“They came away feeling proud that they got gains and it happened while they were there,” Carotenuto says. “The biggest joy that I get out of all of this is seeing the faces of the people after we get done with negotiations. It’s the sense of pride that they feel participating in getting improvements, not just for themselves, but for their co-workers, too.”
Experiences like this are already having a profound effect on Local 2013’s membership across the board.
“Those workers were not afraid to buck the system, and I see that same sense developing in other people,” Carotenuto says. “They saw that the process works, and they now know they don’t always have to be afraid and feel like they’re going to be taken advantage of all the time.”