Queens supermarket workers fight a lockout

Danny Katch reports from New York City on a local labor battle pitting union workers who have gone without a contract for five years against a supermarket chain.

UFCW members on the picket line at Foodtown in New York City (UFCW Local 342)UFCW members on the picket line at Foodtown in New York City (UFCW Local 342)

MEAT AND DELI workers at four supermarkets in Queens and Long Island have been locked out after going on strike to defend their health care and demand a contract.

The members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342 have gone five years without a contract with Ferreira Foodtown, the owner of four Foodtown stores in Jackson Heights, Jamaica and New Hyde Park. That's five years of working for the same pay in one of the most expensive areas of the country.

"My rent has been going up every year, but my pay isn't going up," said one Local 342 member who works as a butcher. Adding insult to injury, during negotiations, Ferreira Foodtown management is offering no retro raises for the previous five years and a pay increase of only $10 a week for full-time workers.

But it was management's attempt to gut the union's health care plan that was the last straw for many workers.

On October 27, workers in the Meat, Seafood and Deli departments of the four supermarkets walked off the job in an Unfair Labor Practice Strike in protest of Ferreira Foodtown's refusal to negotiate a new contract in good faith.

According to Local 342, the strikers went back to work after two hours when management "begged them to return" and made a date for the next bargaining session on November 2.

But when that session failed to produce a contract, the workers went back on strike, leading lively all-day picket lines in front of the supermarkets with chants in English and Spanish like "What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now!" and "¡Carniceros unidos! ¡Jamás será vencido!"

So far the workers are receiving strong support from many customers who are honoring the picket line and refusing to enter the store.

The Jackson Heights location, which workers say is the busiest of the four stores, is located in a neighborhood where many residents are members of unions and/or immigrants rights and community organizations.

Three years ago, over 500 Jackson Heights residents signed a petition pledging to boycott a different local supermarket that had fired its workers and been sold to a new owner. That kind of support can and should be mobilized again to support the workers at Foodtown to fight this union-busting lockout.