By Arthur Z. Schwartz
We are about to learn in the West Village that wholesome food doesn’t automatically come with wholesome treatment of employees.
Mrs. Green’s, which has opened its 1st store in NYC on Bank and Hudson, is a non-union employer which has been in a mighty struggle to keep a union out for the past two years.
The union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, wants to see Mrs. Green’s Natural Market’s eighteen stores in the tri-state area unionized. In a bitter fight in Mt. Kisco, eight long-time workers were fired after coming out strongly for the union as part of an organizing drive. The National Labor Relations Board charged the company with an unfair labor practice and recently settled with the store, just as a trial was starting, giving the workers their jobs back with back pay.
For the most part, the non-union sector of the grocery industry is a cesspool, save, perhaps, Whole Foods, which says it is “beyond unions,” but has workers organizing at a number of stores. I say cesspool because they hire poor people, often undocumented, work them 60 hours per week, don’t pay overtime, and in some cases don’t give workers any days off. Unionization gets workers medical insurance (a union-management run plan), a pension at retirement, paid holidays, and a procedure to challenge unfair management action. John Catsimatidis, of Gristedes fame, has a good relationship with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, and he has no problem making money.
UFCW Local 1500 is planning a picket line, protests and other actions at the West Village shop upon its opening. The store will be competing with grocers employing UFCW workers, including two D’Agostinos in the immediate vicinity. We as a community seem destined to be drawn into this dispute. As Pete Seeger sang, performing the great Florence Reese composition, “Which Side Are You On?”
They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Claire.