“We Fought ’Em Hard”: Hunts Point Produce Workers Toast Victory After Approving Contract


The union representing 1,400 employees on the Hunts Level Produce Market popped open champagne bottles as they celebrated the tip of a weeklong strike for elevated pay of their subsequent three-year contract.

The warehouse employees and drivers that collectively make up Teamsters Native 202 hailed the ratification of the contract on Saturday on the picket line exterior the huge distribution hub after the vote was taken at 10 a.m. at a so-called impartial zone inside the distribution hub’s exterior property. The contract was authorized by 97% of the union’s members.

Shortly after the ratification, members took a victory lap exterior the strike space they picketed for practically per week, whereas vehicles passing by honked their horns, and chants of “si se puede” (“sure we will”) had been uttered. As members raised a glass in celebration, one other member was seen holding up a toy duplicate of Mjolnir, the legendary hammer utilized by Marvel Comics’ Thor.

The ratification of the contract ends a six-day lengthy strike that started on January seventeenth after the union’s negotiating staff couldn’t come to a consensus with the Hunts Level Cooperative Board. Union members had requested for a $1 enhance to their hourly pay and a .60 cents extra pay to cowl their medical insurance, emphasizing that employees saved working all through the pandemic. The corporate counter-offered with a 32-cent hourly wage enhance and 60-cent hourly enhance in direction of their medical insurance protection. The strike raised considerations over how disruptive will probably be to the town’s meals provide, the place 60% of its vegatables and fruits come from the huge market.

“Thirty-two cents when individuals are risking their lives in a pandemic was not adequate,” Charles Machadio, a union trustee. And so they simply did not perceive it. You had been giving us much less on this contract than we had been getting within the final contract.”

The 2 sides had returned to the desk on the request of Governor Andrew Cuomo, in keeping with Daniel Kane Jr., the Teamsters Native 202 president.

Below the phrases, employees can be paid a minimal of 70 cents an hour extra the primary 12 months, 50 cents extra the second 12 months, and 65 cents extra the third 12 months. They will even obtain a one-time $1300 bonus in 2023. Staff will even obtain the identical medical insurance protection with out having to pay a rise. Staff will head again to work starting Sunday, when the contract takes impact. The contract is just not anticipated to be retroactive.

“It isn’t typically that employees take their destiny of their fingers, and determine to place their fingers collectively to combat for a greater tomorrow,” Kane Jr. mentioned at a information convention Saturday. “And these of us did that. And I am hoping that that may resonate with employees all through this nation as a result of our members are important, and first rate, hardworking household individuals.”

The additional pay was excellent news for Jeff Ratliff, an worker who works on the “Potato Home” contained in the hub, mentioned the brand new contract was honest given the bodily calls for placed on employees.

“You bought to have dignity with your self, you bought to get respect the place you’re employed,” Ratliff mentioned. “Typically you’re employed for firms, and […] you are similar to a machine to them. Nothing else.”

He added, “You [are] on this market greater than you are dwelling […] Who need to come to a home the place you do not get no respect out of your youngsters?”

Councilmember Rafael Salamanca Jr., who represents the Hunts Level space, mentioned the job and the union meant so much to his father.

“I keep in mind my dad coming in at three within the morning. I keep in mind my dad coming dwelling and speaking in regards to the struggles and the way drained he was. However he was proud,” Salamanca Jr. mentioned on the rally. “You gave a Puerto Rican man with no schooling, which is my father, a chance. And my father was capable of present for my household. We acquired well being care, he introduced meals to the desk. And right here I’m right now; this younger man from the South Bronx, as a New York Metropolis Council Member due to Native 202.”

Salamanca Jr. was amongst a slew of lawmakers who threw their help behind the putting employees, together with Asssemblymember Amanda Septimo, and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ritchie Torres.

All through the six days the place employees stood out within the chilly, lacking a day’s pay every day to protest the corporate’s wages, help for them intensified, with native elected officers like Ocasio-Cortez and Torres amplifying the employees’ considerations in a letter to the U.S. Labor Division and Nationwide Labor Relations Board. Many of the members on the large 24/7 hub made between $18 to $21 an hour.

For a lot of, the strike represented a watershed second for important employees who didn’t cease working in the course of the pandemic, the place they had been lauded for serving to to maintain the lights on all through the disaster. The pandemic impacted employees on the hub, which remained open at the same time as employees turned sick or handed away.

“We misplaced six individuals throughout COVID which are useless. They by no means made it dwelling, a few of them had died of their wives arms,” Leonardo Servedio, the union vp, mentioned. “We could not attend a funerals as a result of there was no funeral providers.”

For Severdio, an worker on the distribution hub for greater than 30 years, the pandemic lit a fireplace for a labor motion he thinks will take off nationally and resonate with younger individuals.

“They need to know the wrestle of their forefathers and ancestors from no matter nation they arrive from, that got here to America and suffered. And so they labored exhausting, they usually constructed the American dream. With out wrestle, there isn’t a reap. And that is what they’ve to grasp. These younger individuals right now got here right here, (and) they take in that information. And now we’re going to begin to create a motion. It’s known as the brand new labor motion.”

Of the corporate, Severdio mentioned, “We fought ’em exhausting.”

In a press release, Stephen Katzman, co-president of the Hunts Level Cooperative Board who doubles as proprietor of S. Katzman Produce, mentioned the decision permits the hub to assist proceed feeding the town.

“We’re more than happy to have been capable of negotiate a brand new contract that gives our employees with an over 10%  enhance in hourly wages and fringe advantages over the following three years,” Katzman mentioned within the assertion.  “With a mean annual enhance just below three-times the present value of residing enhance, we really feel this can be a very reasonable and equitable deal.”