by David Cruz
As FreshDirect gears up for a move to the Bronx, a faction of the borough’s legislators hopes the online grocer commit to a contract with its current roster of unionized workers. More telling, the letter shows broad support for FreshDirect’s move to the South Bronx.
The letter, signed by pols that included northwest Assembly Members Jeff Dinowitz and Victor Pichardo, state Senators Gustavo Rivera and Ruth Hassel-Thompson, and City Council Members Andy Cohen, Ritchie Torres and Andy King, was sent to FreshDirect CEO John Ackerman stating it was “pleased” the company opted to stay in New York after it mulled a move to New Jersey.
But it pressed FreshDirect to agree to a four-year contract with UFCW Local 2013. It’s unclear whether FreshDirect’s new crop of impending Bronx employees, roughly 1,000 in all, would be eligible to enter the union. Current wages for Local 2013-covered employees, who usually are the company’s truck drivers and delivery persons, range from $8 to $11.50.
“We encourage you to work with the Local 2013 leadership and members toward a contract renewal that provides a safe working environment, fair work conditions, and wages and benefits that guarantee working families can thrive in our City,” the letter said.
The group argued that since FreshDirect has been allocated $127 million in city and state subsidies, it’s only fair for FreshDirect to be a “good steward of those monies and ensure that it provides good jobs at fair wages to its workforce.” The letter added it was troubled by FreshDirect hiring consultants to persuade employees to disregard the union, labeling it as “incompatible with a mutually respectful relationship with employees and their representatives.”
Mischa Gaus, the union’s political director, echoed the political contingent’s position in agreeing to a reasonable contract. Given the subsidies, Gaus believes the company should “do right by its workforce.” He added the company has been “difficult” to negotiate with.
FreshDirect is currently in Queens, though now slated to arrive at a site in the Harlem River Yards in Port Morris by 2016. A concerted effort by South Bronx Unite attempted to halt the relocation through a lawsuit, arguing the 1993 Environmental Impact Study lawyers for FreshDirect used was outdated. FreshDirect had utilized the study when applying for funding through the city’s Industrial Development Agency.
The courts ultimately decided for FreshDirect to move forward, an outcome that proved favorable to Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who led the charge in bringing FreshDirect to the borough.