Nearly 100 Trade Fair supermarket union employees working in the meat department at nine Queens store locations began an unfair labor practice strike on Wednesday, with a strong proponent in their corner to help them fight for a “fair contract.”
“I want to be very, very clear: I will not tolerate the further abuse of these workers by Mr. Jaber, the owner of Trade Fair,” Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said.
As a show of solidarity to the union workers’ plight, Dromm signed a union community petition which already has hundreds of signatures, during a press conference held at his office on Tuesday.
With four current employees on hand, who spoke at the press conference during their scheduled lunch breaks, Kate Meckler, communications director for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342, noted that workers responded to the company’s proposed contract concessions by leafleting the public and collecting signatures, now including Dromm’s, to let residents know what is going on in their communities.
“I will use every legal resource I have available to ensure that these workers’ rights and benefits are respected and they get a contract as soon as humanly possible,” Dromm added.
This comes in the wake of allegations made of “abusive” and “out-of-control” scare tactics used by Trade Fair’s owner Farid Jaber, known as Frank, and management during contract negotiations with union workers in the last few weeks. These actions have been documented with a video posted by UFCW Local 342 to YouTube on Feb. 22 of Jaber berating employees.
According to Meckler, the union has been in negotiations with the supermarket chain for over a year, in preparation for the end of its most recent contract, which expired last November.
“Everytime we meet with Trade Fair to bargain, the company’s proposals get worse,” Meckler said at the press conference.
In the proposed contract, Trade Fair is presenting wage freezes for meat department employees, a reduction of hours from full-time to part-time, cuts to healthcare benefits and withdrawing the opportunity for a higher pay rate if an employee works on a Sunday.
For a company whose nine Queens stores all operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, losing a pay rate of time-and-a-half on Sundays is upsetting for many, especially those with families to support who rely on that extra income.
“The atmosphere since the contract has expired has been very uncomfortable,” Trade Fair employee Milvia Lopez said via translator Carolina Martinez.
Jaber and management have posted help- wanted signs in all their stores for part-time meat department positions, which have been displayed during the strike. If employees were to take further action regarding their contract, Jaber said he would replace the meat department union workers, which is why the signs were posted, Lopez said.
Based on these documented issues and others on record, UFCW Local 342 has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the company.
“We’ve had a lot of pressure since the contract expired to work hard, work faster … all we want is a fair contract that we’re entitled to,” Lopez added, who has worked at Trade Fair for 15 years.
UFCW Local 342 is asking Trade Fair for some wage increases, no reduction of workers’ hours, no changes to healthcare benefits and no loss of what the company calls “Sunday premium pay.”
Dromm walked over with the press to Trade Fair’s Jackson Heights location to personally advocate his support to union meat workers on the job Tuesday.
“Power to the people! Power to the workers!” Dromm said following his remarks outside the supermarket’s basement meat locker.
Trade Fair posted a banner on all store facades explaining its stance.
“We are in negotiation with the union and told them that we need to keep our costs competitive with other non-union stores in the neighborhood so we can provide you with top quality meat at fair, competitive prices,” the banner reads.
Martin Jacobson, CPA and financial consultant for Trade Fair, said in a phone conversation on Wednesday “Council Member Dromm has an agenda.”
“We’ve hadexperienceswith him,” Jacobson said, citing a rally Dromm held in January 2012 over an enclosure that blocked the sidewalk outside the store at 75-07 37th Avenue, broken glass in its recycling area and a tree pit the store had filled with cement.
Jacobson acknowledged that many of the striking employees had worked for Trade Fair for a decade or more.
“We’ve been in business for 30 years. The company takes pride in their labor relations,” he said.
The owner of Trade Fair did not return multiple calls for comment.