Westside Market Comes to the “East Village”

The Westside Market is opening a store on Third Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets.

_MG_2524
Westside Market on Third Avenue.

Local news sites and bloggers are beside themselves with giddiness, focussing on their family-owned, immigrant, rags-to-riches appeal: the usual Horatio Alger crap.

And eco-friendliness! What new store would be complete without eco-friendliness?

The Westside Market may have risen to its prominence by hard work, but it was the over-worked employees who did it. Over-worked and subjected to unsafe working conditions, such as what killed 20-year-old Raymundo Juarez-Cruz, an immigrant from Mexico, at their Broadway and 110th Street store. Police investigating the death said a safety switch on the compactor had been overridden.

    Patrick Purcell, the director of organizing for Local 1500, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said Mr. Juarez-Cruz’s accident was indicative of the working conditions endured by employees of many nonunion supermarkets.

    “These machines are something that you should be working with supervision after being properly trained,” Mr. Purcell said. He said that in stores where the union represents workers, there are clear signs and directions on the compactors. 1

* * *

When this same Upper West Side location closed in 2004, the Columbia Spectator wrote about how workers had been treated:

    Modou Dia, who worked at Westside for 17 years, said, “I work 72 hours a week for the last 10 years. I never got no holiday, no sick pay, no overtime, no vacation. No even ‘thank you.’ He no even tell us he gonna close [today].”

    Liapat Ali, who worked in the deli section at Westside for 17 years, said, “The store made money from selling expired food. They would repackage things after they expired and resell them. … I’m 51 years old. Where am I gonna go? No pension, no severance, nothing.” 2

* * *

Westside Market is not alone in this. The following information is based on a survey of over 100 workers in gourmet grocery stores in Chelsea and the West Village:

    Poverty wages, and no pay increases: The average reported wage was just $7.50 per hour, and cashiers started at $6.50 per hour – that’s $13,000 a year working full-time. The highest wage was $9.00 per hour. At many of the stores, workers did not receive annual pay increases.

    Few benefits, if any: Only a few stores offered health benefits. And in the few cases where health insurance was offered, the benefits were too expensive, workers had to be full-time, and had to wait 10-12 months to become eligible.

    Long hours and no over-time pay: Full-time workers often had to work up to 60 hours per week – with no overtime pay, a violation of state and federal wages laws. At the same time, many part-time workers wanted more hours but couldn’t get them.

    Discrimination: Women, undocumented immigrants, and workers with limited English proficiency earned the least and had to work the hardest.

    Little upward mobility: Most of the stores hired their managers from the outside, rather than promoting from within. As a result, entry-level workers were largely black or Latino, while most managers were white.

    Abusive working conditions: Breaks were short and infrequent. Almost no store allowed sick days. Sexual harassment, verbal abuse and threats were frequent, especially against immigrants.3

But it’s eco-friendly!

* * *

None of this information was hard to come by. I found it in a short time using Google, while at work, no less! Local news sites and bloggers who take the time to interview the owners certainly have time to interview the workers too. Of course, as I found when interviewing workers at bodegas, they’re reluctant to speak, for fear of losing their jobs. But the bloggers could report this, and they could take the time to find out the working conditions existing in the stores they gush over.

=-=-=-=-=

1Supermarket Worker Is Killed By Cardboard-Box Compactor,
accessed Oct. 3, 2014.
2Westside Market Closes its Doors After 30 Years on Broadway,
accessed Oct. 3, 2014.
3Is your Gourmet Grocery a Sweatshop? A Report on Working Conditions at Upscale Groceries in New York City, accessed on Oct. 4, 2014.

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Class Struggle on First Avenue

On August 22, 2013, a week before the first national fast food workers walkout, Saru Jayaraman wrote in the New York Daily News:

    “Throughout his life, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders spoke out for racial justice and economic justice — seeing the two as inextricably bound together. When King was assassinated, he was in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers, who were demanding a living wage, safe working conditions and an end to racial discrimination on the job. The fast-food workers staging walkouts across the United States today are the inheritors of that legacy.” 1

On the occasion of Martin Luther King Day, I have a story about this very struggle taking place in the “East Village”.

I was walking home from work last week, and I found myself walking eastwards on 7th Street. I don’t remember why I was this far west this evening — I’m usually at least on Avenue B by this point — but as I was crossing First Avenue I heard a lot of shouting from in front of the McDonald’s at 6th Street. It didn’t sound like frantic shouting, and remembering the walkout of December 5, I thought there might be something related taking place. So I walked down to see.

ev-mcdonalds
Outside McDonald’s, First Avenue, NYC, Jan. 14, 2014

There were about a dozen protesters outside the door of the McDonald’s. I stood back a bit, took my picture, and then asked the nearest person holding a sign if they had just walked out. I don’t know if she didn’t understand me, or just didn’t want to answer questions from someone she didn’t know, but one of their group came over and told me they were there to demand the job back of a worker who had walked out on December 5. We talked for a couple of minutes, I gave him my contact information so he could let me know of other events taking place, and I continued home.

As soon as I got home, I tweeted and emailed this photo, with a description of what was happening, to local bloggers and newspapers, those who routinely post information they receive about events taking place in the area. The only response was that one of them “favorited” the tweet, but did not retweet it. None of them reported it.

* * *

This is the neighborhood where workers are routinely vilified, when not ignored. Before the 7-Eleven opened on Avenue A, blog commenters wrote that they had no sympathy for the people who worked there, who would soon have to clean up the messes that they intended to make inside the store. As soon as it opened, they began to accuse the workers of harassing business owners in their vicinity, as I wrote about in Class Struggle on Avenue A, and later this:

evg-7eleven-worker-attack-20131213

Fantasy aside, this is a neighborhood that prides itself on desecrated restroom walls!


Mars Bar2

Meanwhile, in Washington Heights, when workers at Domino’s Pizza were fired after the walkout, local residents came out to support them, and the local newspaper reported it!


Domino’s Pizza, West 181 St., NYC, Dec. 9, 2013 3

* * *

At the same time, there seems to be no end to the reporting on the woes of Jerry Delakas, the owner/operator of a news stand at Astor Place. Over a dozen posts combined, this month alone, with appearances by CB3 representatives, City Council representatives, even the new Mayor granted him an audience! Of course, it’s all crass opportunism. It’s easy to come out in support of one individual, whose victory, if he wins, will not resonate any further. Whereas if one nameless worker’s rights are recognized and this worker is reinstated, the precedent will be set for the reinstatement of all of the workers who walked out, and walking out to protest low pay and unsafe working conditions will have the sanction of city officials. That’s not something that’s going to happen in this neighborhood!

This is the kind of story they have to be careful about covering. On the one hand, they’d like nothing more than to use low pay and arbitrary firings as a cudgel against a chain restaurant like McDonald’s, but they have to be careful not to actually advocate for workers, because the small businesses they champion engage in worse practices.

=-=-=-=-=

1Fast-food workers carry King’s dream
2I am endlessly haunted by a sense of saudade and sehnsucht…
3Dishing it out at Domino’s

Workers Need Not Apply

There are a number of web sites that report on news of the Lower East Side: The Villager; The East Villager; The Lo-Down; NoHo News; to name a few. There are also more personal-type blogs that cover local events. Of all of these, only one reported on the recent walkout by fast-food workers that occurred on August 29, even though there are twenty fast-food restaurants in the Houston-to-14th, Avenue D-to-Broadway quadrangle. That site was Quilas.

The Villager is owned by NYC Community Media LLC, which owns the following papers: Chelsea Now, Downtown Express; The East Villager; Gay City News; and The Villager. Not one of these papers mentioned the day of walkouts, neither announcing that it would occur, nor reporting on it afterwards, despite the number of fast-food restaurants that exist in this area:

local-newspaper-map

Although these papers position themselves as neighborhood newspapers (with the exception of Gay City News), they are relatively uniform in their reporting (many of the same stories, written by the same people), and absolutely uniform in their endorsements of political candidates for the primary election:

endorsements

NYC Community News is itself owned by Jennifer Goodstein. Through each of these newspapers, they demonstrate their hostility to workers’ interests. In their endorsement of Christine Quinn for Mayor, they write:

    She would be a tough negotiator with the unions, which will be critically important for the next mayor.
    The East Villager, The Villager.

    …the city wrestles with fundamental questions about how policing is carried out as well as critical challenges regarding affordable housing, schools, healthcare access and public employee union contracts [Emphasis mine –Q]
    Chelsea Now, Gay City News.

    She also understands the city’s budget process, and is an experienced hand who can run the difficult labor negotiations to come. [Emphasis mine –Q]
    Downtown Express

Both of these papers (The Villager and The East Villager) also recently ran an article titled “Will a Democrat for mayor stand up for small stores?” followed-up a month later with “Who has the guts to fight for our small businesses?” Advocating for small business is a coded way of attacking workers’ rights. Small businesses don’t want the minimum wage to increase, nor do they want paid sick days. Neither do large businesses, but they can’t very well advance their agenda by writing: “Who has the guts to fight for our large businesses?”, or “Who has the guts to fight the increase in the minimum wage?” They know that if fast-food workers are successful in achieving their goal of $15/hour, it will have an upward push on their own workers’ wages.

Interestingly enough, through The Villager and The East Villager, NYC Community News endorsed a Republican candidate. They describe him as “a self-made man,” which is true only if “self-made” means on the backs of his workers.

***

The “personal-type” blogs didn’t write anything about the walkouts either. In their effort to oppose chain stores, they cannot bring themselves to support the people who work in fast-food restaurants (unless they can use it as a cudgel against the chains themselves). For that matter, they don’t support the workers who work in the small businesses they favor. It’s as I wrote before, workers are not a part of the “community”. Community members are shopkeepers and their customers, only. But even that’s tenuous, as I will discuss in a future piece.

When I first started writing Quilas, I wrote that some day the banner of “East Village” activism would be raised to fight the increase in the minimum wage. I think that day is drawing near.

Fast-Food Workers Call for Nationwide Walkout Aug. 29

Emboldened by a series of smaller walkouts this past year, workers at fast-food restaurants are calling for a nationwide walkout this Thursday, August 29.

Below is a map, based on one published in the NY Times last year, with the locations of fast-food restaurants in the “East Village”.

fast-food

This is a chance for people who claim to care about the “community” to stand with the people who work here. Choose your location and be there to support them! Walk the picket line with them. Document the action. Send your photos to Quilas.

Bad Green Jobs

There’s nothing new or surprising about jobs at so-called “green” companies being bad, but with Alta Bicycle Share operating New York’s Citi-bike program, this is something I’ll be keeping an eye on. This was reported recently by In These Times: Bad Green Jobs.

Which Side Are You On?

Saving the Lower East Side?

UPDATED 5/21/13 – 9:22PM

I completely reject the arguments made in the comments section. I did not need authorization to write this piece.

Nevertheless, as a gesture of good will, I will redact the name of the company that was used in the example.

***

UPDATED 5/18/13 – 10:06PM

I posted the original version of this piece in the morning of May 18. In the previous version, I based my [Company Name Redacted] figures on shifts of 6.5 hours each (13 hours/day ÷ 2). After I received the comment below, I rewrote it using the new information.

***

There is a blog called Save the Lower East Side (SLES), where one of the most nonsensical contributions to the Great 7‑Eleven Debate can be found. This blog is maintained by someone whom many of you will remember as employing questionable copying/pasting practices, described in Trouble in the “East Village”.

According to SLES, […]:

… employs 6 persons per weekday shift, 2 shifts, 10 people per shift weekends; total: 21 full time equivalent positions, all behind the counter (no waiters/tips) all $10/hr. The store is only half the size of a 7‑Eleven which employs only 7-10 positions per store, so […] employs 4 to 6 times (!) as many people as 7‑Eleven, and all at a higher pay scale (I asked the guys behind the counter themselves, so it’s not management BS).

[…] is open from 7am-8pm, seven days per week.

[…] shifts are 8-hours each. It includes clean up after hours and a three-hour overlap during the day.

Let me just say, they could have saved me a lot of time if they had provided this information in their initial post. It’s not like I have nothing better to do than rewrite a piece that took two days to complete!

So does the clean-up time make it a 9-hour, paid shift, or is it uncompensated? Is it reasonable to assume there’s a set-up hour too? I assume the length of time for set-up/clean-up is 1 hour; how long would it take 6 people to clean up anyway?

I also need to point out that SLES is not calculating Full-Time Equivalencies (FTEs) correctly. An FTE is calculated by dividing the number of total hours worked by the maximum number of compensable hours in a full-time schedule. The scale ranges between 0 and 1. A person who works 40 hours in a 40-hour week has an FTE of 1.0; a person who works 20 hours has an FTE of 0.5. So whatever this 21 figure is, it’s not an FTE.

So again, let’s see if we can figure this out. …:

Shift Number of
Workers
Hours/
Shift
Days/
Week
Worker-Hours/
Week
Mon-Fri, Shift 1 6 x 8 x 5 = 240
Mon-Fri, Shift 2 6 x 8 x 5 = 240
Sat-Sun, Shift 1 10 x 8 x 2 = 160
Sat-Sun, Shift 2 10 x 8 x 2 = 160
____
Total 800

Since we don’t know yet how many people will be working at 7‑Eleven, I’ll use their 7–10 worker range:

Shift Number of
Workers
Hours/
Shift
Days/
Week
Worker-Hours/
Week
Sun-Sat, 3 Shifts 7 x 8 x 7 = 392
Sun-Sat, 3 Shifts 10 x 8 x 7 = 560

But how do the two companies compare from the workers’ point of view, since that’s what this exercise is all about?

Location Worker-Hours/
Week
Hourly
Wage
Total Weekly Wages
[…] 800 x $10.00 = $8,000.00
7-Eleven, 7 Workers 392 x $8.44 = $3,308.48
7-Eleven, 10 Workers 560 x $8.44 = $4,726.40

Then:

7-Eleven, 7 Workers$3,308.48÷7=$472.64

Location Total Weekly Wages Number
of Workers
Average
Weekly Wage Per
Worker
[…] $8,000.00 ÷ 32 = $250.00
7-Eleven, 10 Workers $4,726.40 ÷ 10 = $472.64

So a worker at 7‑Eleven averages $472.64 per week and a worker at […] averages $250.00.

I’m sure there are some at […] who work more than the average of 25 hours and make more than the average amount of money, but for every dollar more one person makes, another makes less, all else being equal. This is assuming the figures SLES provided on the number of workers is accurate! I don’t want to have to re-write this again!

[…] puts more money into the wage pool, paying $8,000/week, compared with $3,308.48 or $4,726.40 per week for 7‑Eleven, but is this sustainable? Time will tell.

Now for Fresh&Co.:

I also looked at Fresh&Co, which is about the size of a 711: 20 people per shift, 2 shifts, including weekends, all behind-the-counter (no waiter/tips) and well over minimum wage (except the delivery guys — they get tips so the law exempts them from the minimum wage, like waiters). Total: 56 full time equivalnt positions, not counting delivery staff. It employs 5-8 times (!!) as a 7-Eleven.

First of all, Fresh&Co is a chain! They have five locations, with three more opening soon. What next, comparing 7‑Eleven to Chase?! Secondly, delivery guys and waiters are not exempt from the minimum wage, their employers are exempt from paying the regular minimum wage. But waiters and delivery guys are supposed to be paid a minimum wage of $5.00/hour. Frequently, they’re not.

Back to Fresh&Co. Since I don’t know what “well over minimum wage” is, then I can’t test SLES’s figures, but I know that 56 FTEs is still meaningless. If Fresh&Co has more workers at a higher rate, then good for them! Again, I never said 7‑Eleven was the best place to work. But in all their efforts to demonstrate how bad 7‑Eleven is, they finally had to compare it to another chain store before succeeding!

7-Eleven is actually one of the worst franchises from a labor/employment point of view.

That very well may be, but SLES has yet to demonstrated it. And it’s better, from the workers’ point of view, than anything they’ve offered in its place.

***

There is one possibility that I just now thought of, which is that “21 full-time equivalent positions” could mean 21 actual workers. Given SLES’s history of obfuscation on this matter, I would not be surprised. So I’ll suggest one more possibility:

Location Total Weekly Wages Number
of Workers
Average
Weekly Wage Per
Worker
[…] $8,000.00 ÷ 21 = $380.95

It’s still less than 7-Eleven.

***

One more thing: why were they not so forthcoming back when we were discussing bodegas? Where was their concern then, for the number of workers and their pay? What are their priorities?

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