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A strike in the largest wholesale market in the United States threatens the supply chain

A strike in the largest wholesale market in the United States threatens the supply chain

It is the largest wholesale marketplace in the country – and has been described as’Costco on steroids”—The nerve center of New York City’s food supply, providing more than half of the fruits and vegetables that end up in lunch boxes, in restaurant dishes, and supermarket shelves.

But a strike of more than $ 1 an hour increases demand in the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, the first in more than three decades, has weakened its operations, leaving some products to rot and threatening to spoil a normal supply chain.

The final blow in 1986 led to a shortage of everything from artichokes to grapes.

This time, the workers, who are members of the powerful local Teamsters company, entered the sixth day of their strike Friday after negotiations over a three-year wage contract collapsed. The union requested an increase of $ 1.60 an hour in each year of a three-year contract, with $ 1 of the increase earmarked for wages. Market management, a cooperative of 29 vendors, faced an offer of 92 cents an hour each year, with a payment of 32 cents from the increase.

The dispute raises questions about how employees will be treated at a time when the pandemic has created a stark division between people who have had to keep coming to work and others who have been able to work from home.

The workers, who earn between $ 15 and $ 22 an hour, say they deserve a better raise because they risk their health to supply the city with food during an outbreak.

Charles Machdieu, vice president of the union, Teamsters Local 202, and a veteran of the market, said six workers have died and nearly 300 have fallen ill after contracting the coronavirus. However, the market remained open around the clock, seven days a week.

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“We all live in an uncertain world.“ I might be dead tomorrow, maybe you too. ”Market merchants must realize that workers“ were coming to work, keeping your business going, and risking their lives, ”he said.

The dollar increase would be a way of saying, “Thank you guys for coming to work, you really are heroes,” he said.

None of the dealers contacted spoke about the labor dispute, but did make a joint statement.

She added that the cooperative spent $ 3 million on personal protective equipment for workers and changed work flows and work stations to make the market safer without the need to lay off anyone.

“Despite all these challenges, we are very proud to keep our union workers – the vast majority of whom live here in the Bronx – working and on the payroll with the full health benefits as the Bronx has seen an unemployment rate of 40 percent,” the statement said.

Although hundreds of workers have withdrawn from work, the strike does not yet appear to have had a significant impact on the food supply, according to some grocery stores provided by the market.

Every day, union members set up picket lines outside the sprawling market, and police on Tuesday arrested six of them for disrupting traffic.

Several prominent politicians, all of them Democrats, have fought. Rep. Richie Torres and Andrew Yang, who is running for mayor, rallied in front of the market building on Monday. On Wednesday, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez distributed heating and coffee to the strikers.

“There are a lot of things upside down now in our economy,” she said He said. “One of those upside downs is the fact that the person helping to get food to your table cannot feed their baby.”

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The strike comes as indebted workers’ groups have pushed for more protection to workers, especially those in the food industry. Last month, the city council approved two union-backed bills that would prohibit major fast food companies from firing employees without good cause and allow them to challenge terminations through arbitration.

But at Hunts Point, the cooperative responded by saying that the epidemic, which has permanently shut down many restaurants, has dealt a blow to their businesses, costing them tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

Merchants in the cooperative buy goods from farms and importers and then distribute the products across the city and the wider region. The market transports 300,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables every day – about 60 percent of all city produce by some estimates – and says it generates about $ 2.3 billion in revenue each year.

Despite the strike, the market is still open, and the cooperative hired temporary workers to break the strike to load and unload trucks, sparking anger from the strikers whenever a truck reached the entrance to the market.

Noah Leah, who runs a branch of CTown supermarket chain in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, said he gets all his green vegetables from Hunts Point, moving around 400 pounds five times a week.

“I’m not worried now,” he said, adding that the chain is hedging against potential disruptions by relying on various markets, including the Philadelphia Wholesale Market, which is a Hunts Point competitor.

Other grocery chains, including Gristedes, have also looked to other markets besides Hunts Point since the last strike to avoid potential shortages and to get lower prices. Large chains, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, do not rely on the market for their production.

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Striking workers at Hunts Point said that despite the safety measures taken by the cooperative, the market is still full of employees who sometimes work in close quarters. One of the workers, Francisco Soto, said the market was “very crowded, like a bin station”.

Mr Machdio said that about 3,000 employees, 1,400 of them union members, operate in the vast 113-acre production market that, along with the separate meat and fish markets, is the Hunts Point distribution center.

“We have exposed ourselves to the disease and make our families sick, but we haven’t slowed down a little,” said Diego Rotechuser, 49, who has worked various jobs in the product market for 27 years.

Mr Rutishauser wakes up at 2 am every day and takes two buses and a train from his home in Jamaica, Queens, to get to work at 5 am

He said, “We are not asking for the impossible.”

The longer the strike continues, the more likely it is that providing the products will become more difficult, said Charles Platkin, director of the Center for Food Policy in New York City.

But he said workers deserve some credit for keeping the market running during a major public health crisis.

“Since it represents a large amount of our food supply, it is important that we understand the strength of this market and how important these frontline workers are, and how important it is for your city to have this workforce out there,” said Mr. Platkin.