Citing a “broken promise” to rehire union workers, Jackson Heights residents, union members and elected officials staged a protest on Wednesday outside a new supermarket on 37th Avenue set to open this week.
Standing next to a giant inflatable rat, protesters pledged to boycott Global Supermarket at 75-07 37 Ave. over the choice of the new owner, Mohammad Haque, not to rehire union workers of Local 338 and Local 342 who were unexpectedly fired two weeks before Christmas by Frank Jaber, the owner of the former Trade Fair.
On Dec. 10 Jaber fired 50 employees and sold the store to Haque on Dec. 11.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who attended the protest said, “The new owner said he planned to hire at least some of the old workers back. Not a single one of them has been hired. We’re here to let the new ownership know that, with our voices and our wallets, we will be seeking justice for the exploited workers.”
Protest organizers cited the petition started by Jackson Heights activist Danny Katch, who secured 500 signatures to show Haque that they would boycott the store until the workers were rehired.
“I’m hoping [Haque] could see how much support there is,” Katch said. He said he did not understand why Haque did not want to hire the workers considering that many were community members whose families would often use the supermarket themselves.
Haque could not be reached for comment.
At the time of the mass dismissal, Joe Fontano, communications director for Local 338, said that Haque reached out to them to discuss the potential hiring back of employees. When workers were out on the picket lines days after the firing, representatives of the new store came out to hand the workers job applications, said Fontano.
After initial talks however, Fontano said that the conversation “just kind of deteriorated from there,” and Haque soon became unresponsive. It wasn’t until Monday that the union found out that the store would be opening a month earlier than scheduled without having hired back union workers.
According to Fontano, workers were unjustly fired since Jaber violated union contracts by not properly informing the workers of the layoffs. He said a legal team is investigating whether parts of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act had been violated.
Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Corona), one of the representatives who delivered the petition to Global Supermarket, spoke to the store manager who told him that the business would not make money if it took on union workers.
Moya also said the manager tried to “backtrack” on Haque’s early jobs promise by saying that he only ever said he was “looking into hiring” former employees.
Kate Meckler, spokesperson for Local 342 called the move to bring in new workers without a union contract “deplorable” and said “there is no logical reason” not to hire back the original workers under a union contract, especially considering they are the ones familiar with the community’s needs.
Also in attendance was Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who protested with the workers back in December after the dismal, calling Jaber a “community menace” for his treatment of his former employees.
Of the new owner’s lack of rehiring, Dromm said, “I urge the community to think twice before entering Global Supermarket and crossing a picket line.”