NEW YORK — Rejecting the bosses’ paltry offer of a raise of just 32 cents an hour this year, 34 cents next year and 37 cents the year after, 1,400 members of Teamsters Local 202 at Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx went on strike Jan. 17. The workers are demanding a $1 an hour raise each year.
“All we’re asking for is $1 an hour,” Cisco Flores told a rally of some 200 workers outside the terminal on the first day of the strike. “If they don’t give it to us, it’s a slap in the face.”
“This is a fight for our worth and the worth of the work we do on a daily basis,” striker Nico Barry told the rally.
This is the first strike at the market in 35 years.
Some workers carried signs that read, “We make you a million, we want a dollar.” According to Local 202, workers’ base wages currently average between $18 and $21 an hour.
“Our rents go up, the price of the food we buy in the store is going up,” 58-year-old truck driver Fernando Santiago told the Militant. “Our wages need to go up.”
“It’s not just about wages, it’s also the workload,” said truck driver José Lora, 52. “They increase the work but still pay the same wage.” During the worst of the pandemic, most of the owners “worked from home,” Lora said. “But we were in here working every day.”
The market is one of the largest workplaces in the city — and one of the biggest wholesale produce markets in the world. Some 60% of the fresh produce in the city, and for a large part of the tri-state area, passes through the market.
The Hunts Point Cooperative Market — which represents some 30 fruit and vegetable processing companies at the terminal — issued a press statement implying that bosses could not afford a bigger raise because business was down 30% from the pandemic. But when the Militant requested more information, Cooperative Market spokesperson Robert Leonard replied Jan. 18 that the overall drop for the year is just 10%.
Several workers told the Militant that they are working 10 to 12 hours a day. “And many bosses try to pressure us to work through our lunch breaks,” said striker William Gil.
There used to be more than 100 companies at the market, but over the last two decades many smaller businesses were driven out as bigger capitalist companies cornered the market. Their revenues are well over $2 billion a year.
According to Local 202, bosses at the market received more than $15 million in government pandemic assistance.
On Jan. 18 cops, some wearing riot gear, arrested six strike supporters for obstructing traffic. They were trying to convince truck drivers to honor the picket line. They were released and given summonses. “The bosses say that we are all one big family when it’s convenient for them,” said Benito Cohate. “When it’s not convenient they can make your life impossible.” He’s worked at the market for 15 years.
“No struggle wins in a day,” Cohate said. “We have to realize that we have the real power when we are united.”