FreshDirect Workers File for Union Vote
Skilled maintenance workers at online grocer FreshDirect’s facility in Queens, N.Y., formally filed for union status with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Tuesday, delivering the news in person to FreshDirect staff.
“This company is outdated when it comes to the salaries and benefits they give workers,” said Manuel Cruz, a mechanic and plumber at FreshDirect. Cruz was one of several workers who marched in to the warehouse Tuesday to notify the company of the impending election, and their decision to join Local 805.
A call seeking comment from FreshDirect was not returned by press time.
A majority of the workers – skilled maintenance staff such as electricians and mechanics – signed union authorization cards, allowing for Teamsters Local 805 to petition for an election with the NLRB. A majority vote to join the union would officially allow 805 to represent all skilled maintenance workers at the warehouse and negotiate on their behalf with FreshDirect.
FreshDirect could also voluntarily recognize the union’s status, but it has indicated it will not do so, according to Local 805.
Local 805 President Sandy Pope called for a quick and fair election to protect workers. “It is inspiring to see these brave men stand up for what’s right and compel a union vote at FreshDirect,” Pope said. “To protect them from possible retribution, it is in the best interest of the workers to conduct this election as soon as possible. We also ask for complete neutrality from FreshDirect, and a pledge that the company will not interfere with this basic and sacred democratic right.”
The election filing adds to a worker organizing effort already underway at FreshDirect’s Long Island City warehouse. Last week, nine City Council members, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called on the company to address reports that its supervisors were violating federal labor laws by threatening workers with a move to New Jersey. The company responded that it has no plans to move.
That followed a strongly worded letter sent earlier this year by 14 City Council members to FreshDirect CEO Rick Braddock, warning him and his company not to engage in union-busting. “We and our colleagues are concerned that FreshDirect has engaged in a campaign intended to frighten and dissuade its employees from organizing themselves into a labor union, as they are entitled to do under Federal law,” the council members wrote.
The council members’ letter also noted that FreshDirect has “received millions of dollars in city and state subsidies from taxpayers, allowing the company to significantly expand its business and post record profits.”
Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers in February announced a coordinated effort to help FreshDirect workers organize to fight for fair wages and benefits. The elected officials have demanded that FreshDirect remain neutral during the process.
The labor groups claim that warehouse workers – more than 1,000 men and women from mostly immigrant, Latino and African-American communities – are often forced to work overtime in cold, wet conditions, offered unaffordable benefits for their families and paid $2.50 to $6.50 per hour less than the industry standard.
But to date, FreshDirect has refused to engage in collective bargaining with employees for improved wages and benefits, and has rejected calls for it to remain neutral as workers attempt to organize.