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Locked-Out Teamsters Urge Boycott of Waldner’s Office Furniture

July 7, 2017
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY - Delivery workers locked out by a leading office-furniture company hope getting its customers to boycott it will win their jobs back.

Waldner’s Business Environments, a Long Island-based company that supplies furniture to offices at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University, and Spotify, locked out about 40 members of Teamsters Local 814 July 1, contending that the union’s contract had expired and it had the right to terminate them. 

“It’s up to those big New York interests to decide what they want to do,” says Local 814 President Jason Ide. On July 6, the union set up a formal picket line outside NewYork-Presbyterian’s Upper East Side branch, urging people not to cross it after picketers spotted a Waldner’s project manager inside.

“A few deliveries turned around, which is great,” Ide says.

NewYork-Presbyterian is Waldner’s largest customer, but hospital officials have so far refused to meet with the Teamsters, he adds. “This is related to a labor dispute between Waldner’s and the Teamsters union,” a hospital spokesperson told LaborPress. “The hospital is not involved.”

A Waldner’s management employee insisted that “there’s no lockout.” After more than a year of negotiations, she told LaborPress, “the contract expired.”

“I have never seen this tactic before. Just saying ‘we’re firing everybody and they can do that,’” Ide responded, noting that Local 814 has been through strikes and lockouts that lasted as long as 11 months. “They believe they’re allowed to terminate us—to fire all the workers and replace us with cheaper subcontractors.”

Waldner’s, one of the largest office-furniture companies in the New York metropolitan area, has been unionized for more than 50 years. Local 814 gave them a preliminary contract offer in February, Ide says, but management never responded. Instead, they announced April 25 that they were going to terminate all the workers when the contract expired June 30—and after that, told the union that the only thing they were willing to discuss was conditions for the termination.

“They decided they weren’t going to negotiate a contract. They wouldn’t even make us an offer,” says Local 814 shop steward Kevin Roach, 56, of Mineola, who has worked at Waldner’s for 33 years. “This has a devastating effect on our families. I have a disabled son, and if I lose my job, I lose my insurance. Most of us are family men.”

“I’m just hurt and insulted,” said Chuck Mallory, who was with Roach and a handful of Local 814 members handing out flyers outside NewYork-Presbyterian’s Washington Heights medical complex. “I gave 23 years to this company, and then they throw us out the door like we’re nothing. They showed us no respect. Greed, that’s all it is.”

Mallory, who will turn 60 later this month, said he had planned to retire in two years. His 40 years as a Teamster, driving trucks and moving furniture, are starting to take a toll on his body. Now, he says, “it ain’t easy to get a job when you’re 59-60 years old.”

“They came to us a year ago and told us what a wonderful job we were doing and their profits were through the roof,” said Marc Muino, 53. “Now, they’re telling us we’re fired.”

Local 814 filed unfair-labor-practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board in May, alleging that Waldner’s was illegally refusing to bargain and had unilaterally repudiated its contract with the union. 

Ide says Waldner’s management is acting like that of the Long Island beer distributor Clare Rose, where Teamsters have been on strike since April after refusing to take a 30% pay cut. Both, he explains, come from a younger generation that doesn’t believe they have any kind of social-contract obligation to treat their workers decently. (Meredith Waldner Stern, the company founder’s granddaughter, took over as president in 2009.)

“If they can keep more and hurt people, they will,” he says. “If 40 years of loyalty and service don’t mean anything and you can just toss people away, that’s an ugly world.

“I guess it’s our job as New Yorkers to stop it.”

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