Some call it the unkindest cut of all.
The ax fell on four workers in the meat department of the former Waldbaum’s supermarket turned Key Food store at the Lindenwood Shopping Center in Howard Beach, prompting a local labor union to picket on the workers’ behalf.
The Lindenwood location was one of five Waldbaum’s locations that Key Food Cooperative purchased in October of this year after Waldbaum’s parent company, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), filed for bankruptcy. Key Food Cooperative operates with individual franchise owners Key Food, Food Universe and other supermarket brands.
According to Kelly Egan of UFCW Local 342, new owner Gilberto Almonte took over the supermarket in October, and terminated the four meat department workers soon thereafter. The workers, all of whom are part of Local 342, were meat cutters and packagers and earning union wages. One full-time employee had “46 years’ seniority,” she noted.
Soon after the union workers were dismissed, Egan claimed, they were replaced at the new Key Food by four non-union workers. The local filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Almonte and Key Food Cooperative, and launched a picket outside the Lindenwood supermarket that included an inflatable rat.
“He has scab workers in there,” Egan told The Courier in a phone interview Tuesday.
The labor action is only specific to the supermarket’s meat department; according to Egan, employees of other departments within the supermarket — some of whom are represented by other unions — were retained.
“We have an agreement with most other Key Foods,” she added. “We have a transition agreement we reached with Key Food Cooperative when it agreed to take over these Waldbaum’s and PathMark stores that they would keep the workers. There’s a few [of these] employers who did not [make that agreement].”
Egan added that union employees in the seafood department at the former Waldbaum’s location in Glen Oaks, also taken over by Key Food Cooperative, were also fired in recent weeks. Local 342 also set up a picket there in protest of the terminations.
Typically, union meat cutters and wrappers with the longest seniority earn the “A-rate” salary of $27 per hour, she noted. No reason was provided for the Lindenwood firings, but Egan suspected it may have been a cost-cutting measure.
“These people have served the community for so many years,” Egan said of the Lindenwood workers. “It’s unthinkable.”
The Courier reached out to Key Food Cooperative for comment and is awaiting a response.