October 7, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – Teamsters Local 202 was born 100 years ago at the old Washington Market in what is now Tribeca, when fruits and vegetables were transported by horse-drawn carts over cobblestone streets.
Today, it represents a diverse group of more than 4,000 workers in the New York metropolitan area, but its core is the 1,500 at the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, where the city’s produce market moved in 1967.
“For 100 years, we’ve been feeding the tri-state area,” says Dan Kane Jr., Local 202’s president since 1999. “It’s hard work in the middle of the night. The work’s not glamorous, but in my family, it was the biggest leap forward.”
Kane is a fourth-generation Teamster. His great-grandfather was a cofounder of the hearse drivers’ union, in 1910. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Eddie Hunt, joined Local 202 in the 1930s, unloading produce from railroad cars and trucking it down from the West Side docks. His father, Dan Kane Sr., a Teamster since 1962, is the union’s Eastern Region International Vice President and has served on its national executive board since 2007.
Local 202 primarily represents workers in the food-distribution industry, including 180 at the US Foods warehouse in Perth Amboy, N.J., Its membership also includes workers at car dealerships and nonprofit social-service agencies, and the mechanics who service ATMs, cash registers, and scanners. It gained more than 1,000 members in 2012, when the telecommunications workers’ Local 111 was merged into it.
With the union celebrating its 100th anniversary, Kane is looking toward the Hunts Point market’s future. It’s the largest produce market in the United States, supplying about 60% of the fresh fruit and vegetables for restaurants and grocers in the New York area. It’s a unique asset for the city, he believes, created and sustained by a combination of public investment, private enterprise, and union labor.
“We’re trying to build a campaign that the city recognize the value of the market,” he says. “It’s now 50 years old. It needs to be bigger, cleaner, and better. It needs to be replaced, right where it is.” It needs better loading facilities and modern, insulated and temperature-controlled warehouses, he adds.
While this would obviously sustain good jobs for Local 202 members, that isn’t the only reason he wants the market upgraded. Its size and diversity enable smaller restaurants and groceries—and with them, the city’s unique food culture—to survive, he says.
“New York’s palate is much different from the rest of the country,” he explains. In most areas, he says, the food-wholesaling business is dominated by a few broad-line suppliers, such as Sysco and US Foods, and that limits consumers’ choices and favors chain stores and restaurants. Here, having 40-odd vendors at Hunts Point means that New Yorkers can get a much wider variety of fruits and vegetables, and the competition among them and other wholesalers who buy from the market helps keep prices down.
Kane is also looking back at the past. Noting that Local 202 recently hosted a benefit for its scholarship fund, he wonders what the teamsters and lumpers at the Washington Market of 1916 would have thought if they had been told, “100 years from now, our kids will go to college.”
“It would have been a dream for them,” he says.