Hunts Point produce workers go on union strike, denounce arrests
Stephon Johnson | 1/21/2021, midnight
Workers at Hunts Point Produce Market want to be paid what they’re owed. And workers stopped operations to do it.
And the police responded in kind.
On Sunday, market workers, and members of Teamsters Local 202, announced a work stoppage starting at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 17. According to the union, talks broke down between workers and management when the latter refused to change what union members called a “stingy” offer for people who kept New Yorkers fed through the pandemic. They’re fighting with their employers over a $1 raise in salary and better health benefits.
Union members took a strike vote last Saturday and hit the picket lines last Sunday.
The 1,400 members of Teamsters Local 202 have worked through the pandemic without the option of working virtually. Over the past nine months, 8 of their members died of COVID-19.
According to the union, employers at the Hunts Point Produce Market have received more than $15 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The majority of the workers in the union have an average base salary between $18 and $21 an hour.
“I know that people are angry,” said Anthony Rosa, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 202, in a statement to the AmNews. “At the end of the day, you don’t pay what they deserve?”
The Hunts Point Produce Market is a cooperative of almost 30 companies that are middlemen for produce served in restaurants and sold in stores around New York City. They are individual companies, but work together to manage the market. Five companies pull the biggest weight in the co-op, with the largest being Katzman and D’Arrigo. Despite that, each of the companies is represented by the co-op negotiating team.
Companies don’t negotiate separately, they negotiate collectively like Teamsters members who work for different companies, but bargain as a collective.
In a statement sent to the AmNews, the market co-op said that it has sent the union a fair offer and wanted the public to know that despite losing $100 million in business from supermarkets closing, they’re still operating.
“Even with the continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, we are offering our dedicated workers wage and benefit increases over the next three years that are a multiple of the current annual cost of living,” read the statement. “Under our offer we will continue to pay approximately $10K per employee/year for pension benefits, and $15K per employee per year for health care benefits in addition to base wage increases.
“The Hunts Point Produce Market remains open for business,” continued the statement. “Our top priority continues to be maintaining the flow of fresh produce to our region and we have put safety measures in place to facilitate access to the Market.”
The importance of the market in keeping people fed isn’t lost on Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. “The food industry is one of the most significant economic engines in our borough, and this strike is not just impacting the Tri-State area, it will have a ripple effect across the East Coast,” said Diaz in a statement. “It is disheartening to hear that our Hunts Point Produce Market workers and management could not come to an agreement during their negotiations.
On Martin Luther King Day, six picketers were arrested outside of the market while protesting for being, according to the New York Police Department in a video posted online of the incident, “unlawfully in the roadway and … obstructing vehicular traffic.”
Teamsters Local 2020 President Daniel Kane, Jr., president of Teamsters Local 202 denounced the arrests and wondered aloud when did the celebration of essential workers end.
“It is outrageous that after being called essential heroes for months, several of our members were arrested while peacefully protesting for a raise today,” stated Kane. “These are the essential workers who went to work every day through the worst of the pandemic to feed New York. All they are asking for is a dollar-an-hour raise so they can feed their families too. The fact that they were arrested on Martin Luther King Day reminds us what side of history we are on.”
Rosa told the AmNews that the union gave out personal protective equipment to its workers before the companies did and had to make the companies do it afterward. He said a raise in salary is the least they can do.
“They don’t want to even say thank you,” Rosa told the AmNews. “They don’t appreciate what my people have done. Pay them what they deserve.”