NEW YORK, N.Y.—Teamsters Local 553 has filed additional unfair labor practice charges against United Metro Energy Corp. after it fired another striking worker last week.
The union, which has been on strike since April at the company’s oil and gas terminal in Brooklyn, filed similar charges in May after the company, owned by billionaire John Catsimatidis, sacked several other workers and replaced them with strikebreakers. On Sept. 13, Local 553 asked the National Labor Relations Board on to add more charges stemming from the termination of James Anderson.
“I’ve been on strike for 151 days trying to make this a job I can live on,” Anderson, who has worked at United Metro since 2018, said in a statement released by the Teamsters Sept. 16. “To then get a letter from my employer saying that they are permanently replacing me instead of giving me a fair wage, it breaks my heart. But me and my coworkers are standing strong to get the union contract we deserve.”
United Metro has now permanently replaced eight of the 14 Local 553 members on strike, a Teamsters Joint Council 16 spokesperson told LaborPress. That, he said, violates the federal National Labor Relations Act “because it’s targeted union activists. It’s been done out of seniority order.”
“These immigrant workers went on strike because they wanted equal pay with others in their industry and John Catsimatidis fired them in retaliation,” Local 553 Secretary-Treasurer Demos Demopoulos said in a statement. “Catsimatidis should do what is right — rehire these workers and agree to a fair union contract so they can provide for their families.”
An attorney for Catsimatidis declined to comment while the NLRB was still considering the charges.
In April, Catsimatidis told LaborPress in a statement that the company couldn’t have “retaliated” against striking workers because “no striking employee has been fired. A few employees have been permanently replaced since we need to be able to continue our operations because our customers depend on us.”
“As much as the Union has the right to strike, we have a right, under federal labor law, to permanently replace employees to enable us to service our customers. That’s a fact!” he added.
The terminal, on the Newtown Creek waterfront in Greenpoint, distributes gasoline, diesel fuel, biodiesel, and heating oil to customers that include city public schools, hospitals, gas stations, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In February 2019, 24 workers there, terminal operators, truck mechanics, and service technicians, joined Teamsters Local 553. They went on strike after more than two years of trying to reach an agreement with the company on a first union contract.
Contract talks have continued, with sessions every week or two but not much progress, the Teamsters spokesperson said. The main issues of dispute are pay, health care, and pensions. Workers at the Greenpoint terminal, according to the union, are paid an average of 20% less than those doing similar jobs at other oil terminals in the city, want better health-care coverage, and want real pensions instead of their current 401(k) plan.
Local elected officials, particularly Assemblymember Emily Gallagher and state Senator Julia Salazar, have given consistent support, the union says, and members of the Democratic Socialists of America have showed up on the picket line regularly, often bringing coffee, pizza, and doughnuts.
“For 151 days, essential workers in my district have been on strike for basic dignity on the job,” Gallagher said in a statement. “Greenpoint doesn’t tolerate bullies. I stand with these brave Teamsters and call on Catsimatidis to finally do the right thing: negotiate a fair contract. It’s time.”