NEW YORK — Fourteen workers, members of Teamsters Local 553 in Brooklyn, have been on strike against United Metro Energy Corp. since last April.
They are fighting to win wages and conditions that match what workers at other fuel-terminal operators in the city are paid. Right now they receive only up to half the standard hourly wages. They are also fighting for better medical insurance and a night shift differential.
The strikers joined the union in February 2019, but owner John Catsimatidis, a billionaire and well-known city political figure, dragged out negotiations for more than two years.
“There was a negotiating session last week,” strike leader André Soleyn told the Militant when this correspondent joined the picket line Dec. 21. “But the company spent the entire session trying to keep as much as possible of the vacation pay we had earned before the strike. They never got to the bigger questions.”
Workers get vacation time on Jan. 1 each year based on the previous year’s work. Some workers are owed as much as four weeks. “We’re only allowed to use it during the warmer months, usually April through October. Since we went on strike in April, most of us still have it all,” he said. “They agreed to pay up to two weeks. Under the company’s ‘use it or lose it’ policy, the rest will disappear at the end of the year.”
Catsimatidis “considers himself a philanthropist,” Soleyn said. “He donates turkeys for the holiday and uniforms to school kids. But in the meantime he’s trying to squeeze every last penny from our families.”
Each Tuesday the strikers host an expanded picket line. On Dec. 14, they were joined by graduate students on strike at Columbia University who are members of the United Auto Workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and a former taxi driver who had been part of the hunger strike in the city demanding debt relief for medallion owners and others. The workers get strike pay that is supplemented by donations to a GoFundMe page, and contributions from other Teamsters locals.
“It’s hard to be out so long,” Soleyn said. “It affects our families. We want to work, but we need to be respected. We’re committed to continue until we have a contract we can accept.”
Solidarity and contributions are needed. Join the picket line! Send checks made out to Teamsters Local 553 (with Strike Fund on the memo line) to 265 W. 14th Street, Room 305, New York, NY 10011, or go to the strikers’ GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-striking-families.