Speaking with striking Trade Fair meat workers

16 Mar

Tara Pappas of UFCW Local 342 (far left), with workers from Trade Fair meat department including Eunice Izquierdo (second from right) and Beatriz Gomez (far right)

Tara Pappas of UFCW Local 342 (far left), with workers from Trade Fair meat department including Eunice Izquierdo (second from right) and Beatriz Gomez (far right)

 

From last Wednesday, Trade Fair employees have been standing outside the supermarket on 30th Ave with placards and leaflets.  They are among 100 employees of the meat departments at the nine Trade Fair locations throughout Queens who are holding an “unfair labor practices” strike.

Among them is Eunice Izquierdo.  She has worked in the store’s meat department for 23 years.  “When I started working here it was a relatively small business,” she says (translated from Spanish).  “I saw him [the company's owner Farid Jaber] buy the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, all of those stores I saw him buy.  And also I’ve seen how the stores have grown in size, thanks to cheap labor.”

In November the workers’ contract came up for renewal.  Their union says that in the proposed new contract the management wanted to freeze wages for meat department employees, make everyone part time instead of full-time, reduce healthcare benefits and stop paying extra rates for  Sunday work.

“He wants to reduce our hours to 24 hours a week.  How are we going to support our families on that?”  says Eunice, who has three children – two in college and one in high school.  “There have been three cuts.  First we worked 48 hours a week, then 37.  At the moment we have been working 34.  Now he wants to cut it to 24 and change Sunday working to regular pay.”

She adds: “I like the work here.  We have done our work with a lot of love.  That is what hurts.  Because we have worked here with our hearts.  We have worked harder than we have been paid for.  It’s not to say it’s a bad business.  It’s a good business, well managed.  But the owner – that’s to say the owner-owner of all the stores – says that he wants everyone to be part time.  Who lives off part time?”

The workers are accompanied by representatives of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, Local 342.  According to the union, when rounds of negotiations over the new contract were not making any progress, the workers began to leaflet the customers on their off-the-clock-time.  The management reacted to this by harassing them and putting up signs in the department that part-time meat workers were wanted, the union says.

Union representative David Rodriquez said: “The employees are just speaking out for their rights.  They went to the community, spoke to the community, and he [Jaber] didn’t appreciate that, he would have preferred that they stay quiet.  So he put up these signs saying that they needed help, in the meat department, when they don’t.”

When the strike began on Wednesday, workers offered to go back to work in the afternoon to continue bargaining.  But management did not let them back, saying that they had been replaced with new staff, according to the union.

Beatriz Gomez is another of the workers on strike.  She has worked in the meat department for 13 years.  “What we are asking is to stay with what we had before,” she says.  “I have a lot of faith that we are going to be able to go back, that we will get our jobs back.  I am prepared to be here as long as it takes.”

Trade Fair headquarters declined to comment for this post.  They referred to the banner posted on the outside walls of their supermarkets.  It reads: “…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 disruptions to our business is their answer to us.  Trade Fair will continue to do what is necessary to keep our costs competitive so that our prices remain competitive.” (full wording on the image below).

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See also: “Trade Fair Employees Strike,” Maria Fitzsimons, Queens Chronicle, 14 Mar 2013

An interview on this website in November 2011 with two managers at the 30th Ave location, Mustafa Eid and Sabah Guessar.  When asked if he would like to comment on the meat workers’ action, Mustafa said that for now only the management at Trade Fair headquarters is able to do that.

Sign outside Trade Fair on 30th Avenue, Astoria

Sign outside Trade Fair on 30th Avenue, Astoria

 

 

7 Responses to “Speaking with striking Trade Fair meat workers”

  1. Vidiot March 26, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    I was troubled by the signs reading “HELP WANTED FOR MEAT DEPARTMENT” that Trade Fair posted right alongside their signs giving their side in the labor dispute. This strikes me as clear coercion and an unfair practice.

    I’m glad the signs have been taken down.

    I don’t know the exact circumstances of the dispute beyond what has been reported in public, and am not taking sides, but I won’t cross the picket line until it is resolved. I hope that both sides can come to an equitable, fair agreement that respects what each side brings to the table.

  2. Jen March 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

    Today it looks like the strike demonstration outside of the 30th Avenue Trade Fair has expanded. (With an apparently appropriate giant rat in front of the store). I’ve shopped at Trade Fair regularly for about 15 years, but I won’t be going back until they treat their workers fairly.

    I think that a lot of the workers are Astoria/Woodside/Sunnyside residents, so Trade Fair’s practices of reducing worker’s hours/pay is ultimately hurting other businesses in the area. Who can afford to buy even burgers for their kids, or even an extra cup of coffee, on half-time pay? Shame on Mr. Jaber and the Trade Fair management for treating their workers this way.

  3. Al Ronzoni March 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Support the Trade Fair meat dept. workers! Boycott the store until the owner agrees to treat them with the respect and dignity we all deserve, lets them come back to work and gives them a fair contract.

    • Armando June 20, 2013 at 6:00 am #

      Why is someone living in Astoria and working at Trade Fair for 23 !!!!! years and STILL has to speak through a Spanish interpreter?? She is not of good service to all shoppers of the store if she has not learned English in all the years she’s lived here. If I learned it, so should she.

      • Annabel Short June 23, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

        Thanks for sharing your view Armando. In fact I gave Eunice a choice between English and Spanish for our interview (I speak it reasonably well) – she could have conducted it in English but preferred Spanish.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Trade Fair is Unfair: Meat department workers at 9 locations locked out! | Occupy Queens - March 22, 2013

    [...] What you can do: • Boycott Trade Fair supermarkets until the workers are brought back!   Your dollar is your vote. Put your money where it matters. Money talks. • Sign this petition in support of the workers • Spread the word about the Trade Fair lockout to your neighbors • Educate yourself with some of these resources: * For up-to-date news on the lock out, visit UFCW Local 342’s Facebook page * Local Astoria blog interviewing Locked Out employee by local Astoria resident [...]

  2. Trade Fair is Unfair: Meat department workers at 9 locations locked out! - March 20, 2013

    [...] resources: * For up to date news on the lock out, visit UFCW Local 342’s Facebook page    * Blog article interviewing Locked Out employee by local Astoria resident * Watch NY 1 piece on the lock [...]

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