April 8, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – Locked out Trade Fair meat department workers – some with well over a decade working together – showed their solidarity on Saturday marching through the streets of Jackson Heights to highlight their ongoing unfair labor practice dispute with the Queens supermarket chain. (Watch Video)
“The community is helping us a lot,” veteran Trade Fair employee Luis Cediel told LaborPress. “They understand the way that [CEO Frank Jaber] is treating the people. They are with us at this moment.”
As many as 100 Trade Fair workers unable to go back to their jobs since an early-morning United Food and Commercial Workers [UFCW] Local 342 unfair labor practice strike turned into a lockout on March 13, urged consumers at 89-02 37th Avenue not to shop at the store. They then marched 14 blocks west to deliver the same message at another Trade Fair outlet located at 75-07 37th Avenue.
“I feel very bad about the lockout,” said Eunice Icquerpo. “I gave them all of my life. But these people give me no respect. Twenty-three years, I started out as a young lady here. I don’t work because of the money, because they can only pay me $12-an-hour. I work because I like to work. I do my work with my heart – but he [Trade Fair CEO Farid "Frank" Jaber] broke my heart.”
The National Labor Relations Board is now considering unfair labor practice chargers against Trade Fair management, and depending on the outcome of those deliberations, the company could be compelled to allow locked out meat department workers to return to their jobs.
Trade Fair managers on duty Saturday afternoon did not want to talk about the continuing dispute, but locked out meat department workers say that their demonstrations are having an impact on Jaber’s bottom line.
“I think business has gone down,” Cediel said. “I think that with this pressure, and all the support from the council members, maybe [the lockout will last] one or two more weeks.”
New York City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, as well as nine other council members, have signed onto a scathing letter to Trade Fair’s management team, urging them to “do what’s right and allow these workers to return to work.”
In a letter dated April 5, the council members wrote, “By locking out your unionized workers and attempting to replace them with inexperienced, non-unionized workers, you have not only jeopardized the livelihood of your employees’ families, but you have also endangered the health of your neighbors and our city as a whole.”
Throughout the dispute, Trade Fair has used signage outside its stores in attempt to criticize the union and win public support. Recently, however, new signs announcing that at least some stores in the supermarket chain are available for rent, began to appear.
Longtime Trade Fair workers hoping to get their jobs back, dismiss the rent signs as nothing more than a managerial bluff, but Local 338 members still working in the “front-end” of the affected stores, have reportedly written their supermarket bosses requesting clarification.
In the meantime, locked out meat department workers are hanging tough and drawing strength from each other.
According to UFCW Local 342 Director of Communications Kate Meckler, highly motivated workers have been the engine driving each action aimed at Trade Fair management.
While efforts to secure a fair contract continue, Meckler said that the number one priority right now, is to get meat department employees back to work.