Trade Fair unfair to workers

Lucy Herschel reports from New York on a struggle of workers at the Trade Fair supermarket chain--and the strong support they have from customers.

UFCW members on the picket line outside Trade Fair  (UFCW Local 342)UFCW members on the picket line outside Trade Fair (UFCW Local 342)

SOME 100 workers in the meat department at Trade Fair supermarkets in Queens called a temporary unfair labor practices strike on March 13. Management's response? To lock the workers out just a few hours later, despite the union's offer for an unconditional return to work.

The workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 342, have been trying to negotiate a contract since their last one expired on November 1, 2012. When the workers got wind of management's desire to cut hours, reduce health coverage and eliminate Sunday time-and-a-half pay, they decided to exercise their collective bargaining rights by leafleting the community during their off-work hours and off of company property. For exercising their basic right to free speech, they have faced threats of termination, aggressive harassment and the retaliatory cutting of hours.

Unfair labor practice charges are pending with the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, the workers continue their campaign on picket lines at all nine Trade Fair locations throughout Queens. "They discriminate against us by demanding that we give up our benefits and salaries while they are not losing out on anything," said one picketing worker in an interview.

Workers at one of the Jackson Heights stores also told stories of management describing female workers as incompetent and calling workers "salami" and other cold-cut names, instead of their real names, when assigning tasks--despite many of them having worked there for a decade or more.

Workers have received strong solidarity from their co-workers in the store, represented by Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RSDWU) Local 338, who are still under contract, as well as from customers, according to Local 342 spokesperson Kate Meckler. "These workers live and work in the community," said Meckler in an interview. "The customers have seen the quality service they have provided over the years, and they respect their right to stand up for decent jobs."

What you can do

Stay informed about the Trade Fair struggle at UFCW Local 342's Facebook page. Call Trade Fair headquarters at (718) 721-2437, and tell them to end the lockout and harassment of its meat-department workers immediately.

Workers are also being supported by local city council members Daniel Dromm and Julissa Ferreras, who have joined with the union to hold several press conference rallies. Dromm in particular has battled Trade Fair over the years for its un-neighborly behavior, which has generated thousands of dollars worth of fines from the city's Department of Buildings.

City Council speaker and leading mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn also released a statement of support. "Trade Fair supermarket is jeopardizing the livelihood of nearly 100 workers by unfairly locking them out," the statement read. "No one should be penalized for standing up for his or her own rights."

As one worker told me, "This struggle is about human rights, for us and our families. Please don't shop at Trade Fair."