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Grocery Worker Retention Act provides security in supermarket industry

Stuart Appelbaum | 2/19/2016, 2:03 p.m.
Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the Grocery Worker Retention Act into law.
Stuart Applebaum

Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the Grocery Worker Retention Act into law. The new law is a victory for the 50,000 people in New York City who work in supermarkets, and it is a victory for the city’s consumers. We applaud the mayor and the City Council for bringing much-needed security for workers in the supermarket industry and for passing common-sense legislation that protects all of us.

The GWRA provides for a 90-day transition period to eligible employees following a change in ownership of a grocery store, and you don’t have to look very hard to find examples why we needed this law in this volatile industry.

In December 2013, workers at the Trade Fair Supermarket in Queens found out they’d be getting coal for the holidays. The 50 hardworking men and women at the store reported to work only to find out that the store had suddenly been sold—and that they were now jobless and had to leave the property immediately. The new owner was under no obligation to hire them back, and longtime shoppers at the store now had unfamiliar faces handling their food and tasked with keeping the store clean.

Likewise, thousands of supermarket workers in New York were affected last year when A&P declared bankruptcy. Stores including Pathmark, Waldbaum’s, Food Emporium and Food Basics—52 in all—were affected. Many of those stores closed, and many others changed hands. Thousands of workers lost their jobs in an instant.

In both cases, workers—through no fault of their own, and many of them members of the RWDSU—lost their jobs without any notice. They and their families suffered because of a sudden loss of pay and benefits. Additionally, communities were put at risk by the loss of skilled and experienced supermarket workers who knew best how to serve stores’ customers and, most importantly, who knew how to properly and safely handle the food that New Yorkers buy and eat every day.

The transition period provided by the GWRA will give New York City grocery workers valuable time to prepare for their future. However, there are more than 175,000 grocery store workers throughout New York. That’s why the RWDSU supports the passage of a statewide grocery store worker retention law. The state’s grocery store workers and millions of shoppers deserve the same protection as those in New York City.