Best Market: The worst for workers
Bruce Levy/PW

EAST MEADOW, Long Island, N.Y.—Supermarket staff, community organizations, workers’ rights groups, union activists, supporters and elected officials gathered for a rally on Tuesday (July 30) in a parking lot outside the East Meadow store of the notorious non-union supermarket chain Best Market to call attention to the employer’s poor record of low pay, minimal benefits, gender discrimination and an uncertain future for many.

The rally was a collaborative effort that involved the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 338, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Long Island Jobs with Justice, and the United Association for Labor Education (UALE) Northeast Regional Summer School for Women.

The long-running campaign took a new twist late last year when over two thousand Best Market workers turned up to work to suddenly learn of its purchase by German multinational discount supermarket chain Lidl, which operates over 10,000 stores across Europe and the United States. Lidl’s low-cost business model includes reducing costs by employing as few workers as possible in their stores.

Throughout the afternoon, workers and supporters stood at the side of one of the area’s busiest roads, displaying colorful placards that read: “Fair Wage + Affordable Healthcare,” “Best Market Runs on Humans,” “Long Island Deserves Quality Food Jobs” and ”You Have to Do Better to be Best.” A few placards were written in Spanish.

Throughout the rally, attendees chanted, “Best Market, Best Market, You Can’t Hide, We Can See Your Ugly Side!”

Many of the speakers were drowned out by the continuous sound of motorists’ horns expressing solidarity and support.

Long Island Jobs with Justice Executive Director Anita Halasz said, “We know that corporations make their profits by standing on the backs of workers and we also know that they make their profits by standing on the backs of the most vulnerable workers who are women and immigrant workers and that’s what we are seeing here today…and it stops now!”

Best Market worker Jill, who attested to the company’s poor wages, told of several co-workers who’ve been employed for over a decade and suddenly had their salaries bumped up to $15 an hour, thanks solely to legislation forcing the company to do so.

Bruce Levy/PW

Grievances were also raised over gender inequity in management positions. Despite a large number of women in Best Market’s workforce, the overwhelming majority of managers and assistant managers are male. Out of 27 stores, just one manager is a woman, a fact that Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said is “shocking and unacceptable.”

New York State Sen. John Brooks, also present, stated that Best Market has “to realize that their objective is to make a profit out of the products they sell, not off the backs of the people who work for them.” Other legislators who spoke included N.Y. State Sens. Monica Martinez, Kevin Thomas, and Jim Gaughran, and N.Y. State Assembly Member Michaelle Solages.

Another Best Market worker, Ashley, was due to speak, but her scheduled time off was suddenly rescinded by management at short notice. However, her testimony, which was read out, included a powerful narrative of workplace poverty, economic hardship, family separation and limited opportunities for women within the company. Her statement, “When women can’t reach management positions, our wages, families, and communities suffer,” struck a chord with many.

After the rally, a delegation of workers delivered a letter to the management inside the store, asking the company to assure workers that they’ll have jobs, stable wages, as well as a living wage, in addition to addressing issues of gender inequity. They were informed that no manager was available. A “bakery coach” grudgingly accepted the letter and said he wasn’t authorized to make any statement.

As one worker stated, “The campaign is not over.”

“Do Better Best Market” has a Facebook page here. Also see Long Island Jobs with Justice.


CONTRIBUTOR

Bruce Levy
Bruce Levy

Bruce Levy writes from New York state.

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