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Carnegie Deli Workers Push Back Against 7th Ave. Closure

January 30, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco

Unite Here Local 100 leader Bill Granfield rallies with workers.

New York, NY - The union representing workers at the famed Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue isn’t buying the owner’s claims that the iconic eatery is really kaput after closing down last month — and they’ve filed charges at the National Labor Relations Board in protest. 

“This spot is a New York legend and it’s a goldmine,” Unite Here Local 100 President Bill Granfield told LaborPress at a rally outside the Carnegie Deli held on Friday. “If the current owner doesn’t want to operate it, we understand that. But someone will make an offer to operate it for them. And we’ve heard from people in the industry that we know who are inquiring about it.”

Until last December, the world famous Carnegie Deli at 854 7th Avenue had been around for some 80 years, serving celebrity patrons ranging from former-President Bill Clinton to boxing impresario Don King. 

“All the customers ask the same questions: ‘Why did they close? Why don’t they sell it?’” Carnegie Deli server Rasmee Ruenanukool told LaborPress. “I don’t think they [the owners] want the union.”

The Carnegie Deli suffered a 10-month shut down beginning in April, 2015 after Con Ed discovered an illegal gas hook up on the premises. 

“It’s been a rocky time the last few years, but it’s been a goldmine for the operators, and that’s why we’re convinced it’ll reopen,” Granfield said.  “And we want anyone who is thinking about coming here to realize that we welcome them, but they have to bring the workers back.”

A spokesperson for Carnegie Deli owner Marian Harper deflected assertions from workers that management had grown increasingly antagonistic towards the union prior to last month’s shut down, saying that management kept the 7th Avenue deli open through the holiday season and gave staffers a paid day off on Christmas Day so that workers could “spend the holiday at home with their families.”

The same spokesperson also said that Harper is, in fact, “looking to license the name and open locations in other areas. But this location is closed with no plans of reopening.”

Carnegie server Rasmee Ruenanukool is fighting for her job.

Despite closing the 7th Avenue location last December, the Carnegie Deli continues to sell its signature dishes online and through several licensed outlets at Madison Square Garden, The Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, The Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows. 

“I’m not read to retire — I want to work,” the 62-year-old Ruenanukool continued. “I’m looking for a new job. But I can’t get one because of my age.”

Unite Here Local 100 says that workers are getting strong support from the rest of the building’s  tenants, and that as of last Friday, no attempt had been made to clear out the Carnegie Deli’s kitchen. 

“They haven’t removed the kitchen operating materials,” Granfield said. “It’s been 27 days, they could have done that. It’s still in a condition that someone could walk in and open it up in 72-hours.”

Like his co-worker Ruenanukool, Roberto Joaquin has spent the last 30 years of his life helping to keep the 7th Avenue Carnegie Deli lucrative and humming. 

“I planned on retiring in two years, but I can’t now,” he said in a statement. “I’m out of a job, no pension, no health insurance. I have lost my wages and seniority. I’m old now, 60 years old, it’s going to be so hard to find a job at my age.” 

 

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