FreshDirect Workers Demand Right to Organize

January 19, 2010: Teamsters Local 805 is launching a new campaign to organize FreshDirect, the biggest nonunion employer in the New York City grocery industry.

FreshDirect is an online supermarket that doubles as a warehouse and a grocery delivery service for New Yorkers. Their motto is: “Our food is fresh. Our customers are spoiled.” More accurate would be: “Our Food is fresh. Our labor conditions are rotten.”

The 1,200 warehouse workers at FreshDirect make starting wages of just $8 an hour with a maximum hourly wage of $11. Health benefits are completely unaffordable. Workers’ shifts are changed frequently.

Teamsters Local 805 is teaming up with political leaders, community groups and immigrants’ rights organizations to demand that FreshDirect respect workers’ rights to organize.

The organizing drive is a joint effort with UFCW Local 342.

Taxpayers have subsidized FreshDirect to the tune of $2.8 million as part of a program that is supposed to create good jobs. But FreshDirect employees make just two-thirds of what the average grocery warehouse worker makes.

When workers tried to organize with Local 805 in 2007, FreshDirect played dirty. They fired key leaders of the organizing drive. Federal immigration officials raided the warehouse right before the union vote. The company won the vote—but not the hearts and minds of FreshDirect employees.

“Ever since, workers have been asking us when we’re coming back,” Local 805 President Sandy Pope told the Village Voice. “Well, we’re coming back.”

The local isn’t coming alone. Political and community leaders are backing the effort.

City Council members have called on the company to sign an agreement to remain neutral during the organizing drive and to agree to an expedited election procedure. Another high-ranking city official, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, has offered to broker an agreement.

“We want workers to have the right to vote to join Local 805 without delays and without intimidation tactics,” Pope said.

If the company refuses to sign a neutrality agreement, Local 805 has already lined up a battery of community supporters to take on FreshDirect in a public campaign. The International Union, Joint Council 16 and many area locals are also backing the effort.

Fresh Direct workers are ready to stand up for themselves and their right to form a union.

It’s up to the company to decide if it wants to agree to a fair election—or put its brand name and tax-payer subsidies at risk in an ugly public dispute.

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