By Kate King
Produce handlers and delivery drivers at Hunts Point Produce
Market in the Bronx are on strike after contract negotiations with
ownership broke down.
Hunts Point supplies 25% of New York City's fresh produce, Mayor
Bill de Blasio's office said. About 1,400 members of the Teamsters
Local 202 voted to go on strike last weekend, according to the
union's president, Danny Kane.
Mr. Kane said the workers are demanding a $1 hourly wage
increase plus an additional 60 cents an hour to cover increased
health-care costs. He said ownership's counteroffer of a 92-cent
hourly increase in the first year of the three-year contract was
unacceptable given the health and safety risks many workers have
endured during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our workers can't be protected by staying home. We have to show
up," Mr. Kane said. "You have to put your mask on and wash your
hands and hope for the best."
The two sides resumed active negotiations Wednesday afternoon,
said Stephen Katzman, owner of S. Katzman Produce and co-president
of Hunts Point's cooperative board. The union declined to comment
on whether talks had resumed.
This is the first strike by Teamsters workers at Hunts Point in
35 years, Mr. Kane said. Workers are picketing outside the market,
and six were arrested Monday night and issued summonses for
disorderly conduct and obstructing the roadway, according to a New
York Police Department spokesman.
The market, which operates as a cooperative with 29 owners,
handles 210 million packages of produce annually. Workers unload
shipments of food pallets, repackage them for distribution and
drive delivery trucks to retail, grocery and restaurant customers
in the city and across the greater New York region.
Mr. Katzman, co-chairman of the ownership's labor negotiating
committee, said the market's business has suffered during the
pandemic due to restaurant closures and the withdrawal of two major
grocery-store chains, Fairway Market and Best Yet Market. The
number of packages coming into Hunts Point was down 10% in 2020
from 2019, he said.
Mr. Katzman said the market and its members avoided layoffs and
spent $3 million on personal-protective equipment and other safety
measures during the pandemic.
"Our expenses went up tremendously during this time," he said.
"We kept everybody working. Cash flow became a problem when
restaurants closed with no warning. We appreciated everybody, and
we did everything that we could to keep everyone safe."
Before the strike, Mr. Katzman said the owners' latest proposal
would have raised total hourly compensation 92 cents in the first
year of the contract, 94 cents in the second year and 97 cents the
third year. Employers would continue to contribute $15,000 annually
toward each employee's health-care coverage.
A spokesman said the mayor's office hopes the dispute will be
resolved quickly, but that there are enough other suppliers in the
tri-state area to avoid significant disruptions to the city's food
supply in the event of a protracted strike.
Mr. Katzman said he thinks a closure of Hunts Point would pose a
major disruption to the city's food supply, but that the market
remains open for business during the strike. Owners are using
supervisors, family members, temporary workers and some union
members who have crossed the picket line to keep the produce
moving, he said.
New York City Councilman Rafael Salamanca, who is running for
Bronx borough president, has called for a federal mediator to
assist with labor negotiations. Several mayoral candidates and
other New York politicians, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria
Ocasio-Cortez, have appeared at the picket line this week to
express support for the union workers.
Most union workers at Hunts Point earn $18.57 an hour in base
pay, or about $40,000 annually, and receive health and retirement
benefits, Mr. Kane said. About 70% of workers live in the Bronx,
which has been hard-hit by both the pandemic and economic crisis.
Many workers contracted Covid-19 and at least six died from it, he
John Sorrentino, 43 years old, a tractor-trailer driver at Hunts
Point who lives in Pelham Bay, said his mentor died of coronavirus
last spring. Mr. Sorrentino, who earns $21 an hour, said he feels
insulted and devalued by ownership's resistance to the union's
"I know what I deserve and what I should earn," he said. "I feed
New York. When you go to your grocer tonight and you get your apple
and your bananas and your organic kale, you can think about me and
the drivers at Hunts Point Produce Market that bring it in every
day and work through a pandemic."
Write to Kate King at Kate.King@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 21, 2021 10:00 ET (15:00 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.