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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2013 10:30 am

Grocers’ union asks government to step into contract fight

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, New York State’s largest grocery workers union, on Wednesday requested that the federal government appoint a mediator to intervene in labor negotiations with Stop & Shop Supermarket. The UFCW is taking this action in an attempt avert a union strike or company lockout that could affect over 5,500 employees.

Local 1500 members employed by Stop & Shop, which has six stores in Queens, are working without a contract. They say that is due to the company’s refusal to sign a two-week contract extension.

At issue are healthcare benefit cuts the store wants to impose due to the effects of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The union had approved a strike starting Nov. 3, but the workers stayed on the job.

“Stop and Shop Supermarkets’ refusal to sign the two-week contract extension offered by the union leaves consumers, workers and dozens of communities throughout the area holding their breath waiting to see if Stop & Shop will lock out its employees,” said Anthony Speelman, secretary-treasurer of UFCW Local 1500 and lead negotiator for the union’s Stop & Shop negotiating committee. “The Union is taking the responsible step of asking for a Federal Mediator to enter the negotiations in hopes of avoiding what would be an economically devastating work stoppage.”

Workplace gay rights bill unlikely in House

A bill designed to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from workplace discrimination was moving through the U.S. Senate this week but appears unlikely to advance in the House.

The bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, is meant to prevent people from being fired or facing other workplace sanctions due to their sexual identity.

“We’ve been fighting this fight for decades, and we’ve made so much progress,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said in a prepared statement seeking the public’s support for the measure. “But workers can still be fired for their sexual orientation in 29 states and for their gender identity in 33. It’s wrong — but we finally have a chance to put it right. I voted for ENDA when I was in the House of Representatives and I won’t stop fighting until these protections become law.”

But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has told the media that he does not support the bill because it is unnecessary and would lead to frivolous lawsuits. Boehner could prevent the bill from coming to the floor in the House, blocking its chance of becoming law.

Group of JFK workers claims to be underpaid

Some workers at several Kennedy Airport terminals have complained that Alstate, a service contractor they are employed by, is breaking the law by not paying them enough.

In a complaint filed with the state Attorney General’s Office, skycaps who work for Alstate allege that the contractor violated the state’s minimum wage law for tipped employees.

The state requires the employer to pay tipped employees at least $5.50 per hour. The workers say Alstate has been illegally paying them less that that, with some as low as $4.15 per hour. They also complain the contractor often pays them at the sub-minimum wage rate when it assigns them to work as wheelchair attendants, who are not tipped and are supposed to be paid $7.25 per hour.

The workers were planning to hold a press conference today, Nov. 7, at the airport to publicize their allegations.

They added that in September, Massachusetts cited Airway Cleaners, which shares management with Alstate, for violating that state’s wage and hour laws at Logan Airport.

News intern wanted

The Queens Chronicle seeks a newsroom intern to do reporting two days a week for 12 weeks. For details, email a resume and at least two writing samples to PeterM@qchron.com.

— compiled by Peter C. Mastrosimone

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