April 25, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, New York – The union representing about 100 Trade Fair supermarket workers locked out of their meat department jobs for the last six weeks, says that the company – headed by CEO Farid “Frank” Jaber – is now trying to foment “chaos and confusion” among the ranks of unified employees by taking back only a limited number of them under drastically changed working conditions.
Over the last 10 days, Trade Fair has quietly begun taking back about half of the employees locked out since March 13 when a brief strike was called to protest unfair labor practices at the Queens supermarket chain’s nine outlets.
But that hasn’t stopped those same workers from rallying alongside their co-workers who remain locked out on the picket line.
Workers like Richard Findlay tell LaborPress that “everything is mixed up and all over the place” as Trade Fair workers with decades of dedicated experience have seen their hours slashed, pay reduced, job titles reclassified and job locations reshuffled.
“I don’t know if [Jaber] is trying to get people frustrated so that they’ll quit, but I’ve been there 20 years,” Findlay said. “I’m not going to walk away. I earned everything that’s mine. Same thing for the other workers.”
These days, when Findlay clocks out of Trade Fair’s meat department, he immediately grabs a sign and joins his locked out co-workers demonstrating outside the store.
“I’ve never seen such a display of solidarity,” said Kate Meckler, communications director for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342. “In the year 2013 when it seems like a lot of people say that unions are irrelevant, I’ve never seen more of a brotherhood and sisterhood displayed with these workers as they continue to back each other up. They’re so supportive of each other. It’s amazing.”
A growing list of New York City Council members – including Speaker Christine Quinn – have also joined a rather vocal chorus of local elected officials denouncing Jaber’s continued refusal to unconditionally welcome back locked-out workers, and start focusing on finally negotiating a new contract.
Trade Fair meat department workers had been laboring without a contract for over a year prior to being locked out.
By attempting to leverage conditions under which he will now allow locked-out workers to return to their jobs, the CEO’s latest move is being viewed as a cynical stab at gaining the upper hand in those stalled contract negotiations.
But the union insists that the attempt is destined to fail.
“This is the company’s way of playing games,” Meckler said. “Trying to link bargaining the contract with the return to work is not going to happen because it’s two separate issues. Whether the workers are inside or outside, we’re going to keep fighting to have all of their rights respected.”
Charges of unfair labor practices against Trade Fair management remain before the National Labor Relations Board. A federal mediator has also been called in to try and finally hammer out a fair contract between labor and management.
“The union is going continue to file charges and make sure that everybody is placed back legally as they should have been – at their correct stores, at their original hours, in their original job classifications, and at their original rates of pay,” Meckler said. “Getting everybody back to work rightfully is job number one. Number two, is to continue bargaining the contract. We’re not mixing the two. The workers never went on strike about the contract in the first place. They went on strike because their rights were being violated when they tried to speak up for themselves.”