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Some 50 Trade Fair meat department employees and community members gathered on the sidewalk of the chain’s East Elmhurst location Monday to protest the supermarket’s lockout of workers.
The employees have been on this corner, at 99-10 Astoria Blvd., for two weeks demanding to get back to work. Beneath a giant blown-up rat, a symbol of protest against non-union labor, Kate Meckler, a UFCW Local 342 spokeswoman, walked around yelling, “Who’s the rat?”
The large crowd responded, “Trade Fair!”
The meat department employees of Trade Fair, a supermarket chain with 11 locations across the borough, have been in contract negotiations with their employer. The workers, represented by Local 342, want fair wages and to keep their health benefits and Sunday premium hours, meaning if they work on a Sunday, and regardless of whether they work overtime, they are entitled to an additional 25 percent of their regular pay.
They say Trade Fair seeks to make all employees part-time and eliminate raises.
Trade Fair did not respond to a request for comment.
Signs posted outside the store say the business is trying to keep prices down and be competitive with other supermarkets.
After being seen outside on their breaks and after work speaking to customers about the fact that they would like a proper contract, employees were allegedly harassed by their company and threatened with termination, Meckler said.
On March 13, about 100 workers from the several Trade Fairs in Queens went on a temporary strike. When they returned to work the same day, the workers had been locked out of their jobs.
Since that day, they have been on the sidewalks with posters hanging around their necks reading “Employers of Trade Fair are locked out” and chanting “Trade Fair’s unfair.”
At the same time, they have urged their friends and members of the community to refrain from doing their weekly grocery shopping at Trade Fair until the workers are given their jobs back.
Meckler said replacement workers have been hired at the stores, although how many is not known.
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) spoke to the crowd in English and Spanish. She repeated on several occasions in both languages, “Trade Fair is not playing fair!” and “These people deserve to go back to work.”
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who visited a Trade Fair in Jackson Heights with the union earlier this month, called out Frank Jabber, owner of the Trade Fair chain. The stores are in East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Astoria, Woodside, Long Island City and Richmond Hill.
“Not only is he a bad neighbor but a bad employer,” Dromm said.
Dromm said many Trade Fairs around the borough have flouted the rules at times, saying their outside sheds violate sidewalk safety and the Jackson Heights store poured cement into a city tree pit.
Workers and members of the city continued to chant, “Put the workers back” while refusing to let several cars enter the Trade Fair parking lot.
Dromm and Ferreras are among the few elected officials to take up the cause of the Trade Fair meat department workers.
“I will always be here to support our workers,” Dromm said to the locked-out crowd.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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