Workers at NYC fresh food market go union on card-check
GrowNYC workers win union recognition | RWDSU

NEW YORK—New York City residents who patronize the city’s leading outdoor fresh produce markets, run at various locations by the non-profit GrowNYC, now will have a new reason to increase their purchases: The staff is going union.

The card-check recognition for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union will cover GrowNYC’s 200-250 workers, spread across all five boroughs. Now the workers will receive fresh food and city farm services from workers who will be far less exploited, once the two sides agree on their union contract.

Card-check recognition was a reversal for GrowNYC’s managers, compost driver April Jane Black told RWDSU. Until then, GrowNYC had employed the notorious union-buster Littler Mendelson law firm. Black said Littler Mendelson is famed for its “stalling” in battling unions. Los Angeles-based Littler advertises itself as the nation’s top “union avoidance” consultant.

Key reasons the organizing drive succeeded included RWDSU fielding worker concerns about  “workplace harassment including sexual harassment, unstable scheduling practices, seasonal layoffs with no call-back structure, a lack of structure” in job duties and work tasks “and favoritism by management.” The union said the contract “would begin to alleviate some of these issues.”

Black cheered GrowNYC’s card-check decision, but unlike other workers RWDSU interviewed, Black’s still skeptical about management union-busting via wrecking bargaining.

“I’m worried that leadership wants to have their cake of good optics giving vocal public support of our efforts while eating it too, by taking a more obtuse union-busting route. It won’t wear us down, though,” Black vowed. “We aren’t going to sit on our hands indefinitely. We’ll see what happens at the bargaining table.”

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum noted the overwhelming card count forced recognition.

“The strength GrowNYC workers have shown throughout their union effort convinced their employer to recognize them,” he said in a statement. “Their strength at the bargaining table will gain them the necessary protections they need to continue to service our city’s greenmarkets, farm stands, and CSA, composting and educational programs. GrowNYC did the right thing.”

The GrowNYC card-check win was the third recent resounding victory for RWDSU. Workers at the Barnes & Noble-run college bookstore at Rutgers University in New Jersey voted unanimously on May 12 to join the union. Assuming bookstore management, which is separate from the larger B&N chain, doesn’t challenge the victory, the union will represent approximately 70 workers.

And just before that, workers at the Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) store in Chicago’s gentrifying Near Northwest Side neighborhood voted 84%-16% on May 4 to unionize with RWDSU. Key issues were “more consistent hours and schedules,” worker/organizer Andrew Loveland said. They’re the fourth REI store nationwide to unionize. RWDSU will represent around 60 people there.

Visual sales lead and worker organizer Sarah Diefenbach said the win also vindicates “the people REI has unfairly fired, denied transfers and promotions to, denied the opportunity to flourish in the proper department to and so many other grievances. We the workers of REI Chicago…all deserve to be paid a living wage with consistent predictable hours for the expert advice we provide to the community” on environmentally friendly gear “and have a say in the day-to-day running of our store. We want the co-op to be successful and we want to truly share in that success.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.