June 22, 2015
By Marc Bussanich
Brooklyn, NY—In May the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation announced that the grocery supermarket chain Wegmans would be an anchor tenant along Admiral’s Row at the Navy Yard. In response the New York grocery workers union said that decision would lower standards for unionized grocers in Brooklyn and thereby exacerbate the Tale of Two Cities.
In an interview on Monday, Brendan Sexton, a political coordinator for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, said that the union was very disappointed that the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation overlooked unionized grocers in favor of a non-union shop.
“It is exacerbating the tale of two cities by bringing in a non-union employer in the Yard that will not create a path to the middle class. In retail organizing, oftentimes companies violate the law at will and just get slaps on wrist. Any fines incurred are really just the cost of doing business. Considering that multiple union-employers were bidding in the final stages for the Brooklyn Navy Yard development project but didn’t get it is a real concern for us about [the worsening] of New York’s tale of two cities,” said Sexton.
Given that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign focused on lowering income inequality by evoking Charles Dickens’ seminal work, the union is disappointed that the administration didn’t allow for a labor peace agreement to be introduced into the negotiations between the BNYDC and Wegmans.
“We really want to have labor peace. We’d like to see Wegmans come to the table and sign onto a labor peace agreement to ensure that the workers have the right to voice their opinion one way or the other. We would have hoped that the [BNYDC] or the administration would have had a labor peace agreement placed into the contract with Wegmans before giving them a green light to locate in the Navy Yard,” Sexton said.
According to Sexton, Wegmans has said that it will employ over 200 workers at the Yard. Currently, the union doesn’t represent workers in any of Wegmans 85 retail stores in six states, although the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents workers in Wegmans’ warehouse and distribution centers.
When asked if the union will launch an organizing drive at the Yard, Sexton said yes but also said that retail organizing in the industry currently benefits employers, not workers.
“Employers willfully violate laws and intimidate workers without any repercussions. If there are any repercussions, it’s a factored-in cost for the employer that they’d rather incur than negotiate with the workers on conditions. Wegmans is going to lower the standards for unionized supermarkets throughout Brooklyn and the city. We want to make sure that workers at Wegmans are brought up to the level of unionized supermarkets throughout the city,” Sexton said.