On Dec. 10, dozens of workers showed up to Trade Fair supermarket on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights for a normal day on the job, but when they arrived, they found that they had been unceremoniously locked out. Just two weeks before Christmas, more than 50 employees were out of work.
On Friday, three days after the announcement that the store had closed, scores of former employees, residents, community leaders and elected officials gathered in front of the grocery store giant to protest Trade Fair owner Frank Jaber and his sudden termination of the workers.
“Trade Fair’s actions are disgusting and inexcusable,” said John Durso, president of Local 338, the union that represents many of the workers at the supermarket.
Jaber reportedly sold the property to Key Food the night before without informing any of his employees that he was planning to shut the store down.
Workers chanted “Trade Fair, unfair!” over and over, drawing a big crowd and stopping traffic. NYPD Community Affairs officers were on hand to ensure safety.
This is not the first time Trade Fair has shut its doors on its employees. A few months ago workers in the meat department were locked out for several weeks in a union dispute.
“Time after time, after time, after time, this business has violated our community standards, has violated the clause of common decency, has violated the rights of workers, has violated building codes, has violated health codes,” Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) yelled. “This man has violated the law in every way possible. He is a community menace and we have tried desperately to work with him over the years. He does not belong in this business; shame on Frank Jaber.”
Union leaders and elected officials are calling on Key Food, the new owner, to rehire all of the workers terminated last week. The store could not be immediately reached.
“We will work with them, we will make sure that they’re happy and we will not allow our workers to be put out on the street in the freezing cold, two weeks before Christmas,” Dromm added.
With the holidays looming, many workers had families to think about.
“For those of us who have families, how are we supposed to go back to our children and tell them that there will be no Christmas?” Rafael Polanco asked. “How can a person be left without a job after 14 years of dedication?”
One resident who lives just above the supermarket, Danny Catch, created a petition not to shop at the incoming store if Key Food does not agree to hire the workers.
Catch stopped shopping at Trade Fair when the meat department was locked out months ago.
“If one of us working people breaks the law, we get arrested,” he said. “I find it profoundly unfair that the owner of Trade Fair repeatedly broke the law and he just gets to keep going.”
The fate of the workers is uncertain but union leaders report the new owner contacted them the day after the rally and has since handed out job applications to every former Trade Fair employee standing in the picket line in front of the store. No jobs have officially been offered and the workers plan to continue picketing in front of the building. Jaber could not be reached for comment.