New York Daily News
A BIT MORE CABBAGE
Hunts Point workers end strike after wage deal
Hunts Point Produce Market workers were headed back to their jobs after union members overwhelmingly voted Saturday to approve a contract with a 10% increase in wages and benefits over the next three years.
Workers demanding an extra $1-an-hour raise will now be getting a $1.85-an-hour boost over the next three years, plus an additional 40-cent-an-hour increase toward their health benefits, union leaders said.
The new contract put an end to a weeklong strike at the nation’s largest wholesale produce provider that got the attention of local and federal leaders, including Gov. Cuomo, who called for a truce between the warring parties.
“We did it!” strikers exclaimed Saturday as they put down their picket signs and popped champagne bottles.
“It’s by far the largest increase and also the largest increase in the first year of the agreement,” Teamsters Local 202 President Daniel Kane said.
“I’ve been negotiation contracts for the past 30 years and I can count on my hand the amount that get a dollar [increase],” he said.
The pay raise will affect the market’s 1,400 union employees responsible for hauling and sorting produce from area farms that are bound for city grocery stores and restaurants.
The raise averages out to a 3.4% jump in paychecks every year, said Stephen Katzman, co-president of the Hunts Point Cooperative Board.
“With an average annual increase just under three times the current cost of living increase, we feel this is a very fair and equitable deal,” Katzman said.
The workers — who the union said make $30,000 to $40,000 per year — walked out on Jan. 16 after negotiations over the $1-per-hour pay raise fell apart.
It was the first time Local 202 members voted to strike in more than 30 years, Kane said.
Workers argued they deserved the modest raise, given that they worked through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And management could afford the increase, they said, since the market received $15 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government to keep the doors open.
“We deserve this,” employee Morgan Bollers said as he cheered with his union brothers and sisters. “Everything keeps going up, our rent goes up, our wages need to be going up as well. It can’t just be all for the bosses and we aren’t making anything.
Bollers, 47, was relieved to be back at work. “Thank God it’s over. Now we start a fresh week and move on from there.”
Management had said it lost $100 million in business after two regional supermarket chains went under during the pandemic, so it couldn’t afford the raise the union sought.
The market’s management also proposed boosting spending on health and pension benefits.
A few days into the strike, six picketers were arrested for allegedly blocking the roadway leading to the Bronx market.
The fight over wages gained national attention when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens, Bronx) skipped President Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday to walk on a chilly picket line with striking workers.
Other New York City congressional Democrats also demanded that the Labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board launch an “immediate” probe into the volatile situation.
City Councilman Rafael Salamanca (D-Bronx) reached out to Gov. Cuomo, who urged the two parties to agree to a federal mediator that helped seal the deal.
The market, which represents 30 produce merchants, is the city’s biggest supplier of fruit and vegetables.
Each year, 210 million packages of produce pass through the market’s loading docks.