By Mark Hallum
United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 342 representatives were picketing outside the Food Universe in Bayside at 35-10 Francis Lewis Blvd. last week and passing cars honked their support for the protestors and their giant inflatable rat.
Union representatives Bill Wallace, Denis Henry and Peter Iacono said the union filed various complaints with the NLRB alleging legal violations of federal labor laws against six locations of Key Foods, the entity which owns Food Universe. The NLRB has scheduled a hearing on the union’s allegations Sept. 19 before one an administrative law judge in Brooklyn.
The Bayside location of Food Universe was formerly a Waldbaums, a Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company holding, which was purchased in November 2015 after filing for bankruptcy. According to the legal complaint filed by the NLRB, allegations against Key Food included but were not limited to laying off employees without first bargaining with the union after the company purchased the store. Other accusations made by the UFCW directed at other Key Food stores in the city where strikes are currently taking place were that employees had been demoted or had their wages cut in violation of their union contract.
“The communities where we are striking have been incredibly supportive of the Key Food workers – very willing to take their business elsewhere until these employers do what is right by their employees,” Kate McDowell, a spokeswoman for Local 342, said.
The picket on the corner of Francis Lewis Boulevard and 35th Avenue is small, and consists mainly of union reps. According to McDowell, this is because the employees represented by the union have been forced out.
Wallace, Henry and Iacono were at the location to distribute fliers to potential customers informing them of the unfair practice suit against the owners and requesting they shop elsewhere. The fliers list alternate locations where shoppers can buy groceries, such as Dan’s Key Food at 153 Cross Island Parkway, Stop & Shop at 249 Northern Blvd. or the Stop & Shop at 213-215 26th Ave.
“With the Food Universe takeover, we had the understanding that they were going to honor our agreement, which we had in place with Waldbaums,” Wallace said, but he new owners announced they would not be honoring wages or benefit packages at the time when the deal was struck between Key Food and Waldbaums. “We’re out here trying to make the community aware and ask them for their support and not shop until we get a decision from the National Labor Relations Board.”
In an example from the NLRB complaint, Mariano Rosado was discharged from his position at the Bayside Food Universe, and his employers allegedly failed to discuss the termination with the union. Key Foods also refused to offer to reinstate Rosado and bypassed the union by asking him to sign a severance agreement, according to the union.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall