Hundreds of workers at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx have gone on strike over a $1 pay raise for almost a week and have received support for their efforts from several prominent Queens elected officials.
The workers are members of Teamsters Local 202, and voted to go on strike — their first in 35 years — after negotiations with management for an hourly pay raise fell through, according to THE CITY. Hunts Point is a 113-acre site that works with more than 30 merchants who purchase food from farmers and other importers, and then distribute the goods to restaurants, grocery stores, among others. They supply 60 percent of the New York City’s produce.
The workers’ grit and resolve to fight for a raise and better working conditions, especially as they’ve worked to feed New Yorkers throughout the pandemic (with some workers dying of COVID-19), has garnered praise from local and national elected officials.
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, joined the picket line, distributed Cafe Bustelo to the union workers and commended them for “asking for transformational change for your lives and for the lives of every food worker across this country.”
“It’s embarrassing that a corporation enjoying pandemic profits, millions in PPP [and] more in tax giveaways is fighting a $1 raise for essential workers who’ve risked their lives all year to feed us,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “It’s time we stand up for essential workers everywhere. Thank you @TeamstersJC16.”
It’s embarrassing that a corporation enjoying pandemic profits, millions in PPP & more in tax giveaways is fighting a $1 raise for essential workers who‘ve risked their lives all year to feed us.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 21, 2021
Negotiations for the $1 pay increase and greater health coverage stopped about two weeks ago, after owners offered a 32 cents per hour wage increase and 60 cents toward health coverage, according to Gothamist.
Teamsters Local 202 represents about 1,400 employees who work as warehouse workers and drivers, and move about 300,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables daily, according to Gothamist. Workers earn anywhere from $15 to $22 dollars an hour, according to reports.
The market is still open and is staffed by management and non-union workers, according to ABC News. But the strike may threaten to “snarl a normally seamless supply chain,” according to a report by the New York Times.
On Wednesday, Teamsters said 21 train cars carrying merchandise turned around to support fellow union workers on the picket line.
BREAKING: 21 train cars of merchandise turned back at Hunts Point Market strike line.
“The locomotive engineer said, ‘we’re @Teamsters too,’ turned the freight car around, and headed back to Ohio.”
— Teamsters JC 16 (@TeamstersJC16) January 21, 2021
amNew York Metro reported the group of workers have braved the frigid temperatures with music, bonfires and onsite barbecues.
However, strikers had an altercation with NYPD officers in riot gear who broke the picket line and arrested several workers for what one union worker said was an alleged noise complaint just after midnight on Tuesday, according to THE CITY.
“Hands up don’t shoot!” We condemn the arrests of several peaceful strikers on the @Teamsters picket line tonight at Hunts Point Market. These essential workers deserve their $1 raise pic.twitter.com/PZhdvUe20v
— Teamsters JC 16 (@TeamstersJC16) January 19, 2021
Teamsters said the arrested workers were released Tuesday afternoon and returned to the picket line.
Newly sworn-in Astoria Assembly member Zohran Mamdani has visited the picket line several times in the week along with fellow members of the Democratic Socialist of America organization to distribute food and show support for the Hunts Point workers.
“We know that the fight for dignity is not constrained by the borders of our districts,” Mamdani said in a video shared to Twitter. “We know that an injury to one is an injury to all. And this is what people say they care about — they say ‘We care about essential workers,’ then come out at 7 p.m. and clap. We don’t want claps, we want coins. We want a dollar. You’re out here for a fair contract. You deserve a dollar — frankly you deserve more, but at the very least you deserve a dollar.”
Today marks their 5th day on strike… pic.twitter.com/Lg7k2SPGEb
— Zohran Kwame Mamdani (@ZohranKMamdani) January 22, 2021
Jackson Heights Assembly member Jessica González-Rojas, who was also sworn into office earlier this month, also visited the picket line.
“I’m the daughter of 1199 [union] worker, I was a UAW worker, PSC CUNY, and you all are on the frontlines in making sure that our communities, our city has the food that we need on our table, and I am enraged that the police has come in here and treated you the way they have,” González-Rojas said. “You are just fighting for a dollar. You are fighting for a dollar that you deserve, you deserve more than that, that is not OK.”
I continue to hold @TeamstersJC16 in solidarity. Right now laborers are enduring the cold as they strike. We must support them as they supported us.
— Jessica González-Rojas (@votejgr) January 22, 2021
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said in a statement that she, too, stands in solidarity with Teamsters Local 202.
“I proudly stand with the employees at Hunts Point Market who are demanding a $1 hourly increase. These New Yorkers are essential workers, keeping our families fed in the midst of a national health and economic crisis caused by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic,” Maloney said. “We must recognize the sacrifices the workers at Hunts Point Produce Market and food workers across the country are making by valuing their tireless efforts and paying them a living wage.”
Thursday night, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards visited the Hunts Point workers.
“Essential workers have been our lifelines during this pandemic. No one should have to strike to get a living wage and proper health benefits,” Richards wrote in a tweet. “Our workers deserve solidarity, and I am proud to stand in Hunts Point with @TeamstersJC16 tonight and everyday.”
Essential workers have been our lifelines during this pandemic. No one should have to strike to get a living wage and proper health benefits. Our workers deserve solidarity, and I am proud to stand in Hunts Point with @TeamstersJC16 tonight and everyday. pic.twitter.com/xtzuWfVv6J
— Queens Borough President Donovan Richards (@QnsBPRichards) January 22, 2021
Other Queens elected officials, including state Senators Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos, as well as City Councilman Costa Constantinides, have also expressed solidarity with the Teamsters who are fighting for a “fair” and “living wage.”
Looks like a scene from the 1930s except it’s the police cracking down on workers instead of a private good squad.
— Sen. Mike Gianaris (@SenGianaris) January 19, 2021
Although an era of union-busting from DC will be thankfully coming to an end tomorrow, we still must stand with our brothers and sisters in labor here in NYC. I support the essential workers in Local 202 & their efforts to earn a fair wage. @TeamstersJC16https://t.co/vnjOLxxBdQ
— Costa Constantinides (@Costa4NY) January 19, 2021
Solidarity forever! https://t.co/dHh4FztDMK
— Jessica Ramos (@jessicaramos) January 21, 2021