February 10, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Mt. Kisco, NY – The largest UFCW local in the state says that nine workers summarily fired from their jobs at Mrs. Green’s Natural Market on Lexington Avenue were terminated because they agitated for union representation – but that they are not going away until every one of them is rehired.
“We’re trying to get these workers back to work,” said Aly Waddy, director of organizing, UFCW Local 1500. “The company is being directed by the government not to retaliate against these workers – but, unfortunately, they did.”
Axed workers and their labor supporters wrapping up their second week of picketing outside the Mrs. Green’s Natural Food Market located at 666 Lexington Avenue, are expected to be joined on the line this Saturday by a number of sympathetic store customers – as well as an outraged Assemblymember Shelley Mayer.
"I stand with the nine long-term employees of Mrs. Greens Natural Food Market who were unlawfully terminated from their jobs because of lawful organizing activities,” Assemblymember Mayer said in a statement.
The twice-elected assemblymember representing the 90th District in Yonkers, says that she is particularly upset about charges that one of the fired workers – Helen Fuentes – was terminated following a December meeting Mayer had with the ex-Mrs. Green’s employee, along with several other workers and union representatives.
“The US Constitution protects our right to petition our government, and no employer should ever punish an employee for exercising that right,” Assemblymember Mayer continued. “I join with the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] in calling on Mrs. Green's Natural Market to end its unfair labor practices – including monitoring and threatening employees – and to return these workers to their rightful positions.”
Fuentes’ meeting with Assemblywoman Mayer reportedly caught management’s attention after the account was featured in the union’s newspaper.
“It was known by management that she was in the newspaper because one of the managers brought the newspaper into the store and was showing it around,” Waddy said.
Local 1500 lost a controversial union election at the Mt. Kisco Mrs. Green’s by just three votes last May. Two of the workers among the group recently fired employees had acted as union representatives during that vote.
“They were treated like criminals,” Waddy continued. “They were walked out of the store like they stole something.”
Some of those terminated had been with the company for more than a decade.
At that point, the NLRB had already charged Mrs. Green’s in Mt. Kisco with violating labor laws – and directed the Canadian-based chain to post a notice at the Lexington Avenue outlet informing workers of their rights to organize.
Yessica Mendez, 20, a Mrs. Green’s Natural Market employee for over three years before before being fired after advocating for unionization, says that management attempted to intimidate her, and her pro-union co-workers.
“About a year ago they cut our hours without giving any explanation,” Mendez said. “We also wanted better benefits. So, we called the union.”
But after hosting a union meeting at her home, Mendez soon learned that she had unwittingly been placed on a Human Resources list. She was then actively discouraged from further union involvement.
“They tried to scare us,” Mendez said.
Repeated attempts to contact Shige Hatanaka, senior vice-president for operations for Natural Markets Food Group – Mrs. Green’s parent company – were unsuccessful. The company that touts itself as a "neighborhood" store has numerous outlets throughout the northeast, as well as locations in Chicago and Canada. New outlets are expected in Burlington, Ontario; West Windsor, New Jersey; New Canaan, Connecticut; Dobbs Ferry, New York and the West Village in New York City.
“Hopefully, we will put the pressure on, and they will reinstate these people,” Assemblymember Mayer added.
Failing that, the local legislator says that she has no hesitations about contacting the NLRB directly.
“These workers are still very scared,” Waddy concluded. “They’re still afraid they’re not going to get their jobs back. “[In one case] you’re talking about a single woman with two young daughters. She’s the sole breadwinner. It’s a scary situation.”
Earlier this week, workers at a Snarf's sandwich shop in Chicago won back their jobs after being unfairly terminated three days before Christmas.