Tentative Deal to Avert Strike at Produce Market in Hunts Point

Winnie Hu
New York Times
January 19, 2015

The Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market reached a tentative contract agreement on Saturday with more than 1,200 workers, averting a potential strike that could have disrupted the region’s supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The three-year agreement would give workers a raise of $20 a week the first year, $22 the second year and $24 the third year. The increases represented a compromise between the union’s earlier push for a raise of $25 a week each year, and the merchants’ counteroffer of $16 in the first year and $22 thereafter.

Another sticking point had been the merchants’ demand that more workers begin contributing $20 a week to their health plan; employees hired in the past three years already make such contributions. Under the tentative agreement, the health care contributions would be extended to some higher paid workers such as supervisors and salespeople.

The workers will vote on the agreement on Wednesday, according to their union, Teamsters Local 202, which announced the tentative deal. Daniel Kane Jr., president of Teamsters Local 202, said the union’s bargaining committee recommended that the agreement be approved.

“We’re not too far from our demands, so we feel confident that it will be ratified by the rank and file,” said Mr. Kane, who noted that “it’s the largest wages and benefits package we’ve received in the last 20 years.”

If union workers were to reject the agreement, there could still be a strike, Mr. Kane said.

Robert Leonard, a spokesman for the market, said that its merchants were happy that both sides were able to come together. “At the end of the day, discussions resulted in a fair package, which goes a long way towards addressing the issues raised by management and labor,” he said.

Union workers had been prepared to carry out the first strike at the Hunts Point market in nearly 30 years after contract negotiations stalled in recent days. They had initially planned to strike as early as Friday morning, but union leaders said that, at the request of a federal mediator, they had agreed to postpone any action until at least Sunday.

The market, made up of about 40 independent merchants but run as a cooperative, is the region’s largest supplier of fresh produce to wholesale and retail businesses, including grocers, bodegas and produce stands. While warehouse workers and drivers typically earn $38,000 to $53,000 a year, a smaller number of supervisors and others can earn more than $75,000, Mr. Kane said.

The two sides had already reached an agreement that calls for the market to increase its own contributions to workers’ health insurance and pension plans.

“We were boosted by the support of our elected officials and everyday New Yorkers,” Mr. Kane said. “It’s getting harder and harder to get by in this city. People really rallied around these workers demanding a wage that their families can live on.”

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