March 13, 2013
United Food and Commercial Workers [UFCW] representatives negotiating a contract on behalf of meat department workers at Trade Fair supermarkets in Queens County, butted heads with a store manager in the basement of 75-07 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights on Tuesday, as New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm encouraged hard-pressed workers to keep up the fight. (Read More/Watch Video)
“Local 342 has been in contract negotiations with Trade Fair for over a year, and it has not gone well,” UFCW Communications Director Kate Meckler said just prior to the confrontation. “If fact, every time we meet with Trade Fair to bargain, the company’s proposals get worse.”
The approximately 100 meat department employees working in nine separate Trade Fair supermarkets located around the borough have been working without a contract since October of last year.
Employees say that since the contract expired, Trade Fair CEO Farid Jaber has attempted to turn meat department workers into part-timers and gut their medical coverage.
“The atmosphere since the contract expired has been very uncomfortable,” said 15-year employee Milvia Lopez. “It’s just not right after all the time that we’ve worked there. We just want a fair contract.”
In addition to reducing their hours, the UFCW charges that Jaber and Trade Fair has tried to intimidate union members pushing for a signed contract. “Help Wanted” signs reportedly began appearing in Trade Fair stores right after employees began speaking out, and workers were told that they would be replaced if they did not keep quiet. Two were actually fired, but later reinstated after the union pressured for their return.
A petition calling on Jaber to finally sign a fair contract has amassed hundreds of signatures from the community.
“Trade Fair wants severe concessions from the workers,” Meckler said. “They have proposed to freeze their wages, cut their hours, gut their health care benefits and take away their Sunday premium pay. Our members cannot support their families with this type of contract. Because of this, the workers responded by leafleting the public and collecting signatures of support. In return, the Trade Fair owner got angry, and retaliated. There has been intimidation against the workers, they’ve been verbally harassed and they’ve been threatened as they tried to stand up for their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.”
The UFCW has since filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
Councilman Dromm, meanwhile, has had several run-ins with Jaber in the past, and would not be dissuaded when the wary store manager balked and said that he was not allowed on the premises “without permission.”
“I will not tolerate the further abuse of these workers by the owner, Mr.Jaber,” Councilman Dromm said. “I will use every legal resource that I have available to make sure these workers’ rights and benefits are respected, and that they get a contract as soon as humanly possible.”
Not long ago, the Buildings Department hit the Trade Fair owner with a $25,000 violation for erecting an illegal sidewalk shed outside his 37th Avenue supermarket, and last spring, a Trade Fair driver allegedly punched Councilman Dromm after the legislator complained about illegal parking in the area.
According to Councilman Dromm, the Trade Fair chief is a “menace to the community” who also once tried to pour concrete into a curbside tree pit, and had beer cases stacked to the ceiling blocking fire exits.
OSHA inspectors have also been called in to inspect Jaber’s supermarkets, based on allegations that dangerous cutting instruments are not being properly maintained.
“He thinks he is above the law,” Councilman Dromm said. “He is not only a bad neighbor, he’s is now also a bad employer.”
Trade Fair supermarket worker Juan Serrano said that he and his co-workers used to be happy coming to work.
“Now everyone is distraught,” he said.