March 26, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
East Elmhurst, New York – The Queens supermarket chain that replaced its meat department workers with scab employees after the veteran butchers staged a brief unfair labor practice strike two weeks ago, is being branded as a Grade A ‘rat’ this week. (Read More/Watch Video)
On Monday, local elected officials and community activists joined the United Food and Commercial Workers [UFCW] Local 342 in denouncing Trade Fair and its CEO Farid Jaber outside one of the chain’s 24-hour grocery stores located at 99-10 Astoria Boulevard.
“Since March 13, these courageous workers standing behind me have been locked out and they have not been allowed to return to work,” UFCW Director of Communications Kate Meckler said. “These members have served the community of Queens for many years – some of them working as much as 20 years – and to be told that they were locked out and not allowed to come back in simply for standing up for their rights, has been nothing short of a slap in the face.”
Relations between Trade Fair and its veteran staff of meat department workers began to sour after employees started objecting to the lack of progress in year-old contract negotiations.
“Trade Fair is not playing fair,” Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras said. “We are standing here in solidarity, and if we have to stand here every day we will because Trade Fair has to be fair to these workers. They deserve to go back to work. We need to ensure that you don’t have cheap prices on the backs of our workers. Trade Fair is the rat today, and we’re calling you out.”
The UFCW has already filed a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board charging Trade Fair management with unfair labor practices including threats and harassment, and is now seeking federal mediation in hopes of getting Jaber’s company back to the bargaining table soon.
Local 338 representative Jack Caffey, warned Jaber that organized labor is hanging tough on this issue, and that Trade Fair could soon face another fight this time next year when the contract covering the supermarket chain's “front end” workers expires.
“We will stand united with local 342,” Caffey said. “This is not just their fight. This is not just the employees fight. This is one fight with all labor. And 338 will be right in the front, shoulder-to-shoulder with 342 this entire time, until these workers get back to work. Let Frank Jaber know that we’re up in about a year or so, and if he wants to play this game with us, then I’m sure 342 is going to be shoulder-to-shoulder with us.”
Councilman Daniel Dromm has tangled with the Trade Fair boss numerous times in the past, and in recent weeks classified him a “menace” to the community. This week, he too, joined in the “rat” chorus.
“We are not afraid of you Mr. Jaber,” Concilman Dromm said. “If you think you are above the law, you are wrong.”
Area resident Robert Butts called on neighbors to step up and show their support for locked out meat department workers in a very real and tangible way.
“All of the resident here, you’ve got to stop shopping in this joint until it’s better,” Butts said. “As long as you drive your car into that parking lot right now, as long as you’re going into that store, you’re killing the workers out here. So, call your friends on the phone and say, ‘We’re not shopping at Trade Fair until the problem is resolved.’”
Community Board 3 member Pat Thorpe lambasted the replacement workers hastily brought in to take over for the locked out Local 342 employees.
“These workers have been here for many years, and this is unfair to them,” Thorpe said. “They have scabs inside working in their place. And I think that is very unfair to these workers. These are union workers who give you good quality service. They shouldn’t be locked out of their place of business.”
Fellow Community Board 3 member and Jackson Heights Beautification President Ed Wesley called Trade Fair’s record in the community “ridiculous.”
“You can’t prevent workers from working,” Wesley said. “They know the job. They should be working.”
According to Meckler, Monday’s action was more than just an effort to return locked out UFCW members back to work, however.
“This isn’t just about putting the workers back to work – it’s about making sure our communities are as good as they can be,” Meckler said.
New York City Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn – suffering a significant hit in a recent poll due to her continuing opposition to paid sick days legislation – issued a statement critical of Trade Fair’s tactics.
“Trade Fair Supermarket is jeopardizing the livelihood of nearly 100 workers by unfairly locking them out,” Quinn wrote. “No one should be penalized for standing up for his or her own rights, and I join Council Members Ferreras and Dromm in calling upon the management of Trade Fair to immediately end this lockout.”
The speaker urged both sides to negotiate in good faith, and to respect the collective bargaining process.
“These jobs are an important part of what makes New York City a vibrant and attractive place where people want to make their homes and raise their families,” Quinn said.