March 24, 2013
(Astoria, New York) Locked-out meat department workers rallying outside of Trade Fair’s number one store on 30th Avenue on Saturday said that after working decades for the Queens supermarket chain, they feel as if they have been “slapped in the face” because scab workers are now doing their jobs. (Read More/Watch Video)
“I can’t believe it – somebody else has been hired to take my job,” Meat Department Manager Richard Findlay told LaborPress. “I did my part to build up your business, I’m just exercising my rights, and you lock us out? I feel like I got slapped in the face.”
Trade Fair and its CEO Farid Jaber decided to lockout meat department workers and hire “replacements” just hours after employees called for an unfair labor practice strike on March 13.
“They immediately put up ‘help wanted’ signs for butchers, so they must have been anticipating there might be an issue, and hired replacement workers,” said United Food and Commercial Workers [UFCW] Local 342 Director of Communications Kate Meckler.
Trade Fair butcher Jason Scott said that he and his meat department co-workers often “looked the other way” when it came to mounting abuses on the job, but had to take a stand about two months ago when the bosses starting cutting employee hours.
“They’re always crying about business being down,” said Scott. “But it’s not. We’re the workers, we know we’ve never slowed down. We’ve always worked hard. And in no way has business slowed down. They are just saying that.”
According to Findlay, meat department workers were isolated and became the targets of verbal abuse right after they started speaking out.
“Orders were passed down on how to treat us,” he said. “There was a lot of ill treatment towards my crew – pointing fingers and blaming.”
This weekend’s vocal rally drew meat department workers from neighboring Trade Fair stores, as well as members of Local 338, who work in the “front end” of the grocery business.
“We do have a contract with the workers in the grocery at this location, so, we’re just asking people to please, do not buy meat in this location,” a union spokesperson said. “We have contracts that will be up in a year, and we hope that we won’t have to go through the same struggle."
Both sides in the labor dispute are acutely aware of the important role that consumers play in the ongoing struggle.
Signs hung in front of Trade Fair stores demonize the union, and claims that the current strike “jeopardizes our store and all of the jobs.”
But Trade Fair butchers who have built up personal relationships with their customers over many years, insist that they are being well supported by the public, and they want that support to continue.
“They know us personally,” said Scott, who in 18 years, has worked at all nine Trade Fair locations. “We’ve worked here for so many years. Around holiday time, they come directly to each one of us. We know what they want. We take care of them. After all the years that we took care of you, we’re asking maybe you can help us out by supporting us, and telling Trade Fair that until Trade Fair starts obeying the law that we, as customers, we will not shop here because we support our workers.”
Despite his two decades working for Trade Fair, Findlay said he now feels his bosses are ostracizing him.
“They don’t even want to look at me,” he said. “I’m scorned. I’m on the outside. It’s hurtful. But, he [Jaber] made the decision to lock us out. Everybody here is ready to return to work, but he’s like, ‘No. You’ve been replaced.’ That’s where I have the problem. That’s why they’re screaming their lungs out.”
The Trade Fair lockout has now gone on for almost two full weeks.
“We’re all just getting by,” Findlay said. “That’s all we can do. I’m okay. I have savings. But not everybody has that. And that’s where I’m worried. That’s my crew. I really care about them. We’ve worked together for a lot of years. We all kind of crew up together, while the business was growing for him [Jaber]. Now, it’s like, ‘You’ve been here too long, we need to replace you.’”
Meckler says that UFCW Local 342’s message to Trade Fair’s chief is simple: “Trade Fair needs to play fair,” she said.