Blue police barricades set the stage on Saturday as nearly 75 protesters, made up of Trade Fair meat department union workers and supporters, took to the street outside the supermarket chain’s headquarters in Astoria to rally for their jobs back.
“I want to see this resolved. Put us back to work; let’s go,” said Richard Findlay a meat department manager at Trade Fair who has been with the company since 1993.
Approximately 100 United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342 union members have been locked out by company owner Farid Jaber, known as Frank, and management after refusing their demand for an “unconditional return to work” by employees.
The lock out is the company’s response to workers going on strike on March 13. Employees alleged unfair practices including “abusive” and “out-of-control” scare tactics used against employees during contract negotiations in the last few weeks. The actual strike only lasted a couple hours, then they were locked out.
In Trade Fair’s proposed contract, the company presented wage freezes, reduced hours, cuts to healthcare coverage and discontinued premium pay of time-and-a-half on Sundays.
“We have members all over New York and New Jersey who are standing with you, shoulder to shoulder, brothers and sisters, standing strong with you at Trade Fair,” Kate Meckler, communications director for UFCW Local 342, said to the crowd, relaying words from union President Richard Abondolo via phone.
Trade Fair has hired replacement workers to work in all nine Queens supermarket locations amid the lockout. As far as UFCW Local 342 is concerned, this practice is illegal, and charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board as a result.
“I need to work. I have to pay my bills, pay my rent,” Eunice Izquierdo said during the rally.
Izquierdo, a mother of three, has worked in the meat department of Trade Fair for 23 years in all store locations and has the added pressure of supporting her children’s financial needs with her salary.
“That’s why I need my job back,” she added.
UFCW Local 342 is working with Trade Fair on a contract, and, according to a union spokesperson, has reached out to a federal mediator to aid in the process.
The supermarket workers are supported by Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who both rallied alongside 50 union members on Monday, at another protest held outside Trade Fair’s East Elmhurst location demanding the lockout to end.
Now another strong proponent has stepped up to advocate support in the worker’s fight for a “fair contract” — Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who released a statement following Monday’s event.
“No one should be penalized for standing up for his or her own rights ... we urge all parties to negotiate in good faith and respect the collective bargaining process,” Quinn stated.
“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 families,” Quinn added.
Trade Fair has posted signs on its storefronts addressing allegations it deems as unjust after the union posted a video on March 15 to its Facebook and Twitter pages. In it goats were piled on the floor of a delivery truck and subsequently placed into a shopping cart upon removal outside the Jackson Heights store location.
“UFCW Local 342 has been lying to our customers about our meat products. Our meats are fresh quality and properly labeled,” the sign reads.
The company took to its website, tradefairny.com, to plead directly to their customers in a news update posted on March 25.
“We want to assure you that our stores remain open for business; all of our other employees continue to report to work. They understand that this strike jeopardizes our stores and all of the jobs ... We appreciate your faith in us and your continued patronage. We know you have a choice. Thank you for choosing Trade Fair, ” the post reads.
Father of five Jason Scott, a Trade Fair butcher for 18 years, attended the rally on Saturday and is using his struggle as a teachable moment for his children.
“Some of my kids are here right now with us; they’re supporting us. For their future, we’re trying to explain to them that it is very important for them to stand up for what’s right,” Scott said.