Fresh Direct

January 11, 2008

NEW YORK--The online grocery store Fresh Direct has joined countless other companies using the racist backlash against immigrants to thwart attempts of workers to organize.

Fresh Direct, a company that made $240 million in profits in 2006, has been battling both the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Teamsters Local 805 since 2006.

With a scheduled union ratification vote December 22-23, Fresh Direct told workers at their plant in Long Island City, Queens, that federal officials planned to check their immigration status and demanded that workers bring their documentation to work.

This led to undocumented workers walking off the job out of fear of being reported to immigration authorities. More than 250 workers didn't show up to work the next day, creating a state of fear and panic in a plant of 900 workers.

Javier Guzman, a former worker in the plant, who is now an organizer for UFCW Local 348-S, told Socialist Worker that "workers inside the plant are scared; management has told workers that it is the union's fault that the firings occurred."

Some plant workers have drawn the conclusion that the union is to blame. This was evident during a community rally on December 20 in front of the plant. Dozens of workers watched the rally wearing "Vote No" pins, and jeered at the mention of the union.

Conditions inside the plant are staggeringly bad. Warehouse employees at the company often work 13-hour shifts in 30-degree temperatures for $7.50-9.75 per hour, while most unionized warehouse workers in New York City earn $10-20 an hour. Guzman also reported how management has been able to pit workers against each other by their race--putting Black supervisors to look after a section of the plant with Latino workers, while white supervisors oversee a section of the plant with Black workers.

In the end, with 500 plant workers participating in the election, 426 voted against unionization, with 73 in favor. The pro-union votes were split between Teamsters Local 805 and UFCW Local 348-S.

The UFCW has been trying to organize the plant since November 2006. José Merced, Local 348-S organizer, said that the struggle at Fresh Direct has just begun. "There can only be fair elections once Fresh Direct stops its anti-immigrant tactic of dividing workers and intimidating pro-union workers" he said.

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