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From Harper’s BAZAAR
For the first time in 35 years, workers are on strike at New York’s Hunts Point Market.
Approximately 1,400 Teamsters Local 202 union workers unanimously voted for a strike on Sunday, Jan. 17 after contract negotiations failed when management responded to calls to increase by $ 1 an hour with an offer of $ 0.32 each Hour contradicted. These workers, who continued to work during the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, are responsible for delivering 60 percent of the products in New York City.
On Wednesday, Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped put the movement in the spotlight by skipping the estimated $ 200 million opening ceremony to join union members on the picket line and demand the $ 1 wage increase.
“The more we talk about it, the more pressure anyone can exert,” said the congresswoman in a video recorded by city reporter Claudia Irizarry Aponte. “So that we not only earn money, but also change the lives of people in this country.”
Everything you need to know about the strike at Hunts Point Market.
Who is striking?
Warehouse workers, drivers and various other union members who keep the city’s products going are leading the fight on the picket line, according to a Teamsters press release.
The Hunts Point Produce Market, the world’s largest per-Grub Street wholesale market, relies on these hundreds of workers to distribute and process the 210 million packages of fresh fruit and produce that pass through the hub annually. These products are then shipped to 23,000 restaurants and 2,500 greengrocers across the city – meaning a strike in New York could potentially have a “ripple effect”, according to WNYC.
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What are their demands?
In addition to a $ 1 hourly increase, the union is calling for better health insurance, according to Gothamist.
Currently, the majority of workers have an average base salary between $ 18 and $ 21 an hour per press release. The Teamsters also found that Hunts Point Market employers have multi-billion dollar sales annually and recently accepted more than $ 15 million in forgeable PPP loans during the pandemic.
What has happened since the strike started?
Teamsters and supporters have been picket lines outside the main entrance of the Bronx Hunts Point Market around the clock since Sunday January 17th.
Police arrested half a dozen of the picket lines early Tuesday morning, the Daily News reported. Videos from the scene show pickets in the street with arms raised above their heads as a swarm of officers, some of them in riot gear, rush towards the group. In the background, an NYPD recording reads: “You are illegally on the street and obstructing vehicle traffic. You will be asked to leave the street and use the available sidewalk. If you do this voluntarily, no fees will be charged against you. If you stay on the street and refuse to use the sidewalk, you will be arrested and charged with disorderly behavior. “
In response, some pickets can hear “hands up, don’t shoot” chanting, according to the Daily News. The phrase is often recited during protests against Black Lives Matter.
“It is outrageous that after months of being labeled essential heroes, some of our members were arrested while peacefully protesting for an increase today,” local President Daniel Kane Jr. said in a statement. “These are the most important workers who went to work every day to feed New York during the worst of the pandemic. All they ask is a dollar an hour increase so they can feed their families too. The fact that they were arrested on Martin Luther King Day reminds us of the side of history we are on. “
It is not yet known whether or not the arrested pickets were charged.
“They can use riot police to put trucks on the market, but the workers they need to unload the trucks are still on the picket line,” Kane said. “We will stay on strike until these employers pay their workers the essential wages they deserve.” . ”
On Wednesday, the union’s Twitter account reported that 21 wagons full of goods had been returned to the picket line. “The engine engineer came out, saw them, said, ‘We’re teamsters too,” turned the freight car over and drove back to Ohio, “a union member said in a video.
In addition to AOC, several politicians have publicly supported the strike, including mayor hopefuls Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang and New York representative Ritchie Torres.
What’s the bigger picture here?
Although strikes in the United States have long been in decline, the strike at Hunts Point Market is part of a resurgence in collective labor that is thriving across the country, especially as workers continue to speak out against working conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics saw an increase in strike activity as early as 2018-2019, according to the Economic Policy Institute, with an average of 455,400 workers involved in major work stoppages across the country.
The Economic Policy Institute also notes that the strikes continued despite the pandemic caused by poor pay and protection against the deadly COVID-19 virus. In industries such as retail, manufacturing, health care, and food service, work stoppages have occurred as workers demand better wages or adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.
What can I do to help?
When in New York City, the Teamsters are actively looking for people to join them all day at the picket line at 772 Edgewater Road in the Bronx. You can also reach out to local neighborhood organizations such as the New York branch of the Democratic Socialists of America who may be accepting donations for food and supplies.
If you are outside of New York, you can continue to support the action by speaking up, sharing information and following the progress of the Teamsters strike on your Twitter or Instagram account or using the hashtag #HuntsPointStrike.
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