May 18, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – The last nine weeks have been tough on the roughly 100 Trade Fair meat department employees locked out of their jobs since March 13. But on Friday, Ed Lynch of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, vowed that the many employees who helped Trade Fair CEO Farid “Frank” Jaber build his supermarket empire would be victorious (Watch Video).
“At the end of the day, I promise and I guarantee, we are going to get something that we are going to be proud of,” Lynch told LaborPress.
Although the bulk of those barred from returning to work after protesting unfair labor practices over two months ago have been rehired – the jobs they once knew have been dramatically redefined. Hours have be slashed, wages have been cut and store assignments have been overturned.
About 14 workers still remain jobless.
“Individuals like this who are just swimming in money, have absolutely no right to take away from these workers, or from any workers, their right to have a fair wage,” Lynch said.
New York State Senator and Queens borough president candidate Jose Peralta joined Lynch in the latest demonstration to take place outside of Trade Fair store number 9, located at 89-02 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights.
“Trade Fair, you should deal fair and ensure that you end this lock out,” the State Labor Committee member said. “Trade Fair, you should ensure that you deal fair and you allow everyone to come back to work. Not at part time, but at full time – and at what they had [before].”
Peralta joins a cadre of city elected officials who have already denounced Jaber and urged the Fair Trade CEO to end the lockout.
Tensions between recalled workers and those originally brought in to “replace” them are reportedly running high inside Trade Fair stores.
“I don’t think the company really has a strategy other than just to screw with their heads and make them feel frustrated,” UFCW Local 342 spokesperson Kate Meckler said. “But we prepped the workers and told them that was going to happen. We knew that the employer was going to make this as difficult a return as possible.”
The union representing Trade Fair meat department workers – many with decades on the job – is hoping that the charges they filed with the National Labor Relations Board will ultimately compel Jaber to return all the locked out workers to their original positions.
“We’re counting on that process to help make sure that everybody gets put back rightfully,” Meckler said. “This lockout has been illegal from day one as far as we’re concerned. The day the workers made an unconditional offer to return to work, [Jaber] locked them out, and allowed some of the scabs to stay inside. When you lockout workers, it’s supposed to be everybody’s locked out, or everybody’s allowed back in. So, he started this lockout illegally, and bringing people back at reduced hours and at different stores, and at reduced rates of pay, is also illegal as far as we’re concerned.”
The union and Trade Fair management have yet to reach an agreement on a new labor contract, as well.
Local 338, meanwhile, represents the supermarket chain’s ‘front end” workers. Their contract expires next year.
“Your fight is our fight,” Local 338 member Christine Hrusitzay told demonstrators. “We will be in your shoes one day. And we will feel your support. We want everyone to get back to work and live every day with a fair and a decent wage.”
Lynch assured Trade Fair workers that they have the support of “the entire labor movement.”
"This is an individual [Jaber] who started with one store and several workers,” Lynch said. “Those workers – in coordination with him – made him a very wealthy man. He has multiple stores in the Queens area. The very disturbing part about that is, when they sat to negotiate [a contract], all he wanted to do was take away things.”
In addition to the charges they have already filed against Trade Fair, Local 342 reports that a settlement has been reached in a 2009 class action lawsuit filed on behalf of workers who allege that Trade Fair illegally withheld overtime pay. The deal could cost Jaber in excess of $1.5 million.
Said Meckler, “The lawsuit is just one more example of this guy breaking the law and trying to get away with anything he can.”