The Hazards of Shopping Locally

Recently, these signs went up in the neighborhood, warning of ATM Skimming:


Click the image to enlarge

They’re on just about every lamppost, in some areas.

When EV Grieve posted something today (7/19) about the signs, in a short time commenters were complaining about this happening to them, at local stores!

local-stores-skimming-0719-1804

local-stores-skimming-0719-2011

local-stores-skimming-0720-1217

local-stores-skimming-0720-1313

local-stores-skimming-0720-1515

Mom! Pop! What about the community?!

* * *

Back in May:

    Governor Andrew M. Cuomo … announced the initial results of the State Liquor Authority’s (SLA) effort to combat underage drinking in New York City utilizing a part-time investigative unit. Starting on April 17, 2014, the unit made 74 visits to licensed grocery and liquor stores in all five boroughs of NYC, with 32 sales to minors.

The Manhattan stores were all in the “East Village”:

local-stores-selling-beer
Click the image to read the press release

Mom and Pop strike again!

Class Struggle on Avenue A

So, 7‑Eleven on Avenue A and 11th Street finally opened for business on October 30, 2013, and in less than a week’s time, “No 7-Eleven NYC” (N7E) began attacking their workers on Twitter:

n7e-tweet-anti-711-worker

And from their blog:

n7e-attacks-711-workers

The claim that 7-Eleven employees are harassing local businesses comes from one of their supporters: the owner of the Hi-Fi bar, across the street (red highlighting mine):

hifi-attacks-711-workers

N7E and Co. has never been judicious with the truth. They have attempted to use everything and anything they find as a cudgel against 7-Eleven, from ministers leading campaigns against the store because it sells beer, to claims that 7-Eleven is a “crime magnet” due to the fact that 24-hour 7-Elevens in isolated areas have been robbed, to claims that the city’s attempted soda cap would give 7-Eleven unfair advantage over restaurants and movie theaters! They laud bodegas that over-charge for expired merchandise and make the bulk of their money from selling cigarettes, beer, and lottery tickets in poor neighborhoods.

bodega-front'
Yeah, bitch! Bodegas!

It defies reason to accuse the workers of 7-Eleven of this. To begin with, the workers at the new 7-Eleven are new to this hoopla. They haven’t been around since the time of the Hurricane Sandy planning session; they didn’t take the job and immediately join the fray. Secondly, their manager isn’t going to let them leave the store while they’re on the clock, especially to create mischief on the block.

I went into the 7-Eleven yesterday and spoke with a worker there. She told me the story of the owner of Hi-Fi coming in and confronting her. When she told him it wasn’t anyone from there, he became more confrontational. She also told me that most local businesses owners have been very friendly, and wished them well.

Once again, N7E rears its petite-bourgeois head. Attacking big businesses on the one hand, and workers on the other. These are the people who claim the mantle of resistance in the neighborhood.

***

Why would they even make this claim? Apart from the fact that they’ve never bothered with being honest, maybe it’s because this is exactly what they do!

Thursday, Oct 31
n7e-1031-0933

n7e-1031-2048

Sunday, Nov 3

Monday, Nov 4
EV Grieve reported that someone inside the store revised the N7E skull sign.

Later, he reported that someone outside the store destroyed the revised skull sign.

Friday, Nov 8

The accusations come easily to them because the actions themselves come easily to them.

***

Back in August, in response to the assertion that the 7-Eleven on Avenue A “targets only non-local foot traffic coming to the bars on A,” I responded “It’ll be people in the neighborhood who shop there, watch and see.”

What does N7E say?

n7e-no-customers-1109-0917

n7e-no-customers-1109-1606

I’ve made it a point to pass by there more often recently, to see who is going in, and just as I predicted, it’s neighborhood people. Mostly young mothers and children, mostly Black and Hispanic. In my two times entering the store, and the many times I’ve pass recently, I’ve noticed that the employees are also either Black or Hispanic! Of course, these people are not even on the radar of the all-White N7E!

Quilas Meets No 7-Eleven

I found a new site recently: GoAnimate

Expect to see more animations on Quilas in the future!


 
(What they’re talking about.)

N7E and Labor (Again): A Recapitulation

When discussions take place across separate blogs, and in the Comments sections of even different blogs, the focus begins to blur. Early on, I maintained that, as opposed to a bodega, a 7‑Eleven moving into the vacant space at Avenue A and 11th Street would raise the income of the neighborhood, against the assertion that 7‑Eleven would: 1) reduce the number of jobs; and 2) lower income in the neighborhood via the requirement that part of the profits be sent to the corporate headquarters. I believe I defended this position adequately at The Local Economy?.

Since that time, the conversation has shifted. This is a recent post from the leader of N7E (click on the image if you want to read the entire screed):

rob-on-wages

There appear to be two assertions here — only one of them is direct:
“…replacing a 7‑Eleven with a restaurant in NYC would improve the wage prospects of immigrant workers, documented as well as undocumented.” But the inclusion of wage statistics just before that indicates that they’re making the argument that wages in a restaurant would be higher (for the cook, in any case) than for clerks in a 7‑Eleven, and that a restaurant is, therefore, preferable.

There really isn’t anything to say about “improve the wage prospects of” except that it does not follow from “Mean average for a cooks wage…” just before it. You find this all through their literature. And it’s ambiguous. “[I]mprove the job prospects of” makes more sense. They may be right that it lowers the “wage prospects” of undocumented workers, but they’re going to have to tell us exactly how many people they’re talking about. Are they ready to claim that X number of jobs at less than minimum wage, with employer threats of deportation, are preferable to a similar number of jobs at ≥ minimum wage, with the increased opportunity to organize a union? (I’m going to deal with the topic of organizing in a future post. For now, let this suffice as an example of what 7-Eleven workers can do. I’ve also maintained that, as a large company, 7-Eleven is susceptible to pressure from outside its workforce.)

Now, to the money question. To begin with, why would they cite the mean, average wage for cooks across the country after reading what I posted in Restaurants, which examines the pay of restaurant workers in New York City? Hmmm? Maybe they just skimmed it, and thought “Look, numbers. We should get some numbers too.”

quilas-restaurants-min-wage1

The problem with the BLS figures they cite2 is that they’re not accurate hourly rates. Many are extrapolated from flat rates divided into hours scheduled per week. Others are determined by taking the mean, average annual income (e.g., $23,300), dividing it by 52 weeks, then dividing that by 40 hours, as if cooks worked eight hours a day, five days per week. As already established:

quilas-restaurants-typical-hours1

$23,300 ÷ 52 weeks ÷ 6 days ÷ 12 hours = $6.22/hour.
÷ 10 hours = $7.47/hour.
÷ 8 hours = $9.33/hour.

As we narrow the discussion to increasingly-specific details, like the hourly rate of a cook in a hypothetical restaurant, it becomes more difficult to generalize. A 7‑Eleven at that location that hires ten people instead of seven, or a restaurant that employs a chef instead of a regular cook, limits the inferences we can make. But there are a couple of observations that can be made with certainty: there is no evidence that a restaurant would be significantly better than a 7‑Eleven for either total number of people hired or total wage receipts; and everyone who works at the 7‑Eleven will be paid at least minimum wage, while many of those who work at the restaurant will not be. It’s nothing to write home about, but this discussion has never been about why 7‑Eleven is good, just about why it’s less bad.

***

Finally, almost as an aside, I will address this last claim:

    “The majority (66 percent) of low-wage workers are not employed by small businesses, but rather by large corporations.”3

I have no doubt that this is true, but it’s completely irrelevant to the discussion! (You find this all through their literature.)

It’s funny they should refer to this report. If they had bothered to turn to page 2, they’d have seen the following:

nelp-table-1

Oh well. This isn’t their forte, after all.

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1Unregulated Work in the Restaurant Industry in New York City
2Occupational Employment and Wages News Release
3Big Business, Corporate Profits, and the Minimum Wage

‘No 7-Eleven NYC’ Comes Clean

Finally! It was like pulling teeth!

Since shortly after their inception, I have maintained that No 7‑Eleven NYC is a group of people whose activities promote the interests of small businesses in the “East Village”. Nothing could have been more obvious from their literature. Yet when I raised the issue, here and on other forums, they denied it fervently. It was strange, but that’s what they did.

Well finally, in an email discussion I’ve been having with one of their leaders, they admit it:

email-from-n7e

So galling must it have been for them to admit this that they followed up immediately with:

email-from-n7e-shill

What I’ve written about them (12 out of a total of 45 posts) has been opposed to, not so much their aims as, the limitations of their aims. 7‑Eleven opening up was an opportunity to examine existing social relations in the neighborhood. I seized that opportunity; they didn’t. They could have shone a light on conditions of workers at bodegas, as I did. They could have examined why the choices were limited to 7‑Elevens and bodegas, as I did. Instead they ignored it all, focusing on superficialities and nativist fears.

I could be wrong, but I have the feeling that now that they’ve stepped forward and admitted their class bias, I’ll probably write less about them. They will go on promoting the interests of small-business owners over both their employees as well as their competitors (how will they do this when one bodega threatens another?), and I will continue to promote the interests of the workers. Once 7‑Eleven moves in, I will advocate for the people who work there, the way No 7‑Eleven NYC does not advocate for the people who work in bodegas.

***

But wait! What’s this?:

n7e-mission-stmt-chg

They’re going to start concerning themselves with labor? Hmmm, maybe I will keep writing about them.

See you in the salt mine.

Bodegas

When I first started this blog, one of the topics I wanted to write about was Working — working conditions, pay, and unemployment, primarily — on the large scale as well as local. It seems I’ve been doing this for a while now without even realizing it!

I came across some information recently, while writing No 7-Eleven NYC, Labor, and “Free Markets”, from the National Employment Law Project, a national advocacy organization for employment rights of lower-wage workers, to quote their web site. Some of this restates what I wrote already, except it focusses on violations of the law instead of exemptions from it, and is more specific to food stores:

    The grocery and supermarket industry is divided into three main segments:

    1. Green grocers, bodegas & delis sell fresh produce, dry and prepared foods, and household items. They are small stores and often family-run.
    2. Gourmet grocers are the fastest-growing industry segment and are defined by luxury products (including health food and organic food) and a high-income consumer base. Stores are mid-sized and often owned by chains, although some have independent owners.
    3. Supermarkets are larger, carry a wider range of products, and are often owned by chains. Historically, this segment has had higher union density and job quality, though both have been declining because of non-union competition.

    Wages and working conditions vary by industry segment and by the degree of unionization. The most unregulated stores are green grocers, bodegas and delis – margins are razor thin, wages are low, and workplace violations are chronic.

    Immigrants make up about two-thirds of the workforce, and increasingly hail from Latin America and especially Mexico. Many find jobs through friends and family already working in a store that is hiring. But some employers advertise in ethnic newspapers, and green grocers frequently hire workers through storefront employment agencies. Bodegas rely heavily on family members, who put in very long shifts.

    In our interviews, non-union grocery jobs were widely considered the least desirable of employment options. While the jobs are easy to get, requiring little English or previous training, they are exploitative and dead-end (“There’s only one type of job,” as a bodega owner put it). Turnover is high across all segments, although workers may stay in the industry for several years because there are few alternatives.

    INDUSTRY SEGMENTS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON
    • Green grocery stores, bodegas and delis (violations are prevalent).
    • Gourmet grocers/health food stores (violations are frequent).
    • Non-union supermarkets (common violations in some occupations).
    THE JOBS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON
    • Occupations – Occupations most impacted include cashiers, stock clerks, deli counter workers, food preparers, delivery workers, janitors, baggers, produce washers/watchers, and flower-arrangers.
    • Typical wages – Green grocery, bodega, and deli workers: $250-300 per week is typical. Produce washers and food preparers earn between $4 and $5 per hour.
    • Typical hours – Hours average 55-75 hours per week in green grocery stores; 40-60 hours per week in gourmet grocery stores; and 40-60 hours per week in non-union supermarkets.
    • Payment method – Workers are largely paid in cash at green grocery stores, with the exception of occasional cashiers and family members of the owners. Gourmet grocers and supermarkets generally pay on the books, though at least a few workers are always paid in cash.
    • Benefits – Health benefits and vacation and sick days are rare in non-union stores.
    THE WORKERS MOST AFFECTED BY WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS
      Workforce is almost exclusively immigrant, from Mexico, Central America, Korea, Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia. Delivery workers are mostly African immigrants. With the exception of cashier jobs, most occupations are male dominated. Ages range from the teens through the 40s.

      Green grocery and delivery workers are often undocumented. Some undocumented workers in gourmet grocery stores and supermarkets.

    INTERMEDIARIES PLACING WORKERS IN UNREGULATED JOBS
      Storefront employment agencies are frequently used, especially for off-the-books jobs, charging the workers $100-$300 per placement, or $10 for a day job.
    COMMON WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS
    • Minimum wage – Violations are pervasive in green grocery stores, bodegas and delis. Workers commonly put in 60-72 hours per week, often resulting in hourly wages below the minimum. For example, a worker paid $300 per week for 60 hours will earn $5 per hour (without considering time-and-a half-pay for overtime hours). The worst jobs can be paid as little as $2.50 an hour. Similar violations are found in gourmet stores, but are somewhat less pervasive. Violations in non-union supermarkets are concentrated in the most vulnerable occupations (baggers, delivery workers).
    • Overtime – Green grocery stores rarely pay overtime. Gourmet grocery stores may selectively pay overtime (e.g. after six months, or for more skilled workers). Non-union supermarkets often violate overtime laws for baggers and delivery workers.
    • Meal breaks – Meal breaks are erratic, and green grocery workers in particular can work up to 14-hour days without a meal break. Delivery workers typically do not get meal breaks and have to eat on the job.
    • Employer taxes – When employers pay in cash, they very rarely pay required taxes.
    • OSHA – Chemical and pesticide exposure is a serious issue for workers handling sprayed produce, with few safeguards or training by employers. Stockers do not receive mandated training on lifting and moving.
    • Workers’ Compensation – Smaller employers do not carry workers’ compensation, and across segments, workers rarely receive it when injured on the job.
    • Discrimination – Workers report hiring, firing and promotion based on immigration status, ethnicity and relationship to owner, as well as harassment based on immigration status.
    • Retaliation and the right to organize – Workers report being threatened, intimidated and fired for bringing complaints or attempting to organize.

Another topic I plan to take up soon is working in restaurants. If you want to get a jump on things, check out this web site.

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Unregulated Work in the Grocery and Supermarket Industry in New York City

No 7-Eleven NYC, Labor, and “Free Markets”

This past Saturday (April 6), the local small-business association No 7‑Eleven NYC (N7E) held an event in Tompkins Square Park. This is how they advertised it:

n7e-tsp-announcement

I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it — I usually have a lot of work to do on Saturdays. As luck would have it, though, my mid-afternoon appointment got cancelled, so I was able to go. This is my review.

I guess the first thing I’d say is that N7E is undisciplined. They were supposed to begin at 1:00pm, but none of them arrived on time. Reverend Billy, an invited guest of theirs, paced back and forth waiting for them. They finally showed up around 1:10, carrying their signs and Wheel of Fortune.

I will discuss their activities in another post (perhaps). Today, I’ll just limit myself to their writings. This is the flier they handed out (I commend them for printing double-sided; at least they don’t waste paper):

n7e-tsp-flier1 n7e-tsp-flier2

Don’t strain your eyes trying to read it; I’ll enlarge the points I want to discuss.

n7e-tsp-flier1-blurb2

This is just deceitful. 7‑Eleven employs between seven and ten people per store (depending on the location), up to three-times more than a bodega.

The labor issue is probably the most significant one when comparing 7‑Eleven with bodegas. I’d like to point out something that happened just last week:

The workers at fast-food restaurants across the city went on strike. This is something that could never happen with bodega workers, for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that bodega workers are fragmented. Concentration of capital can enhance the solidarity of the workers, as more are brought into cooperation with each other by working in bigger firms.

On their web site, N7E’s propagandists insists that, in addition to employing more people, bodegas are, for workers, superior to chain stores, because bodega owners will hire convicted felons. I would love to see the statistics on this claim! However, on a more relevant note, they ignore that bodegas are exempt from most labor and health & safety laws:

  • Unemployment Insurance – Employees are paid in cash, so there is no record of their employment.
  • OSHA Requirements – If you have fewer than 25 employees, your penalty is cut by 60 percent. If your business has fewer than 10 employees, you’re exempt from many requirements that obligate you to report workplace injuries.
  • Discrimination Laws – Federal laws against discrimination in the workplace do not always apply to small businesses. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to employers with 15 or more employees. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies only to employers of 20 or more people.
  • Employee Health Insurance – Beginning in 2014, employers will be expected to pay a “shared responsibility fee” for health insurance coverage under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Small businesses are exempt from this rule. If your company has fewer than 50 employees, you have no healthcare responsibilities.1

Because bodegas workers are paid in cash, no taxes are withheld, leaving them with a large tax liability at the end of the year, and with no Social Security credits. Bodegas also frequently hire undocumented workers, whose protections are nil. Not only can they be fired for no reason, they are oftentimes threatened with deportation if they raise any objection.

nelp12

***

N7E claims that 7‑Eleven’s presence in the neighborhood threatens the “free market”.

n7e-tsp-flier2-blurb1

I’ve already discussed this claim with an N7E ideologue in the Comments section of another blog, but I will point out to them, once again, that rather than it being threatened, this is exactly how the “free market” operates:

    The battle of competition is fought by cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities demands, [all else being equal], on the productiveness of labour, and this again on the scale of production. Therefore, the larger capitals beat the smaller. It will further be remembered that, with the development of the capitalist mode of production, there is an increase in the minimum amount of individual capital necessary to carry on a business under its normal conditions. The smaller capitals, therefore, crowd into spheres of production which Modern Industry has only sporadically or incompletely got hold of. Here competition rages in direct proportion to the number, and in inverse proportion to the magnitudes, of the antagonistic capitals. It always ends in the ruin of many small capitalists, whose capitals partly pass into the hands of their conquerors, partly vanish. [Emphasis mine]

I’m certainly not against fighting the “free market,” but people who know better can see N7E doesn’t know what they’re saying. A real grassroots campaign would be up-front about wanting to subvert the “free market” in their effort to establish the type of neighborhood they desire. They would understand that there’s no way that could be avoided. They would advocate for the people who work in the bodegas, instead of for the owners. They might even want to restrict the number of bodegas, as even they realize there is an over-abundance of them:

n7e-tsp-flier1-blurb1

***

The same organization that works to protect the rights of undocumented workers has an unfavorable assessment of bodegas as places to shop, as well:

nelp23

***

So this was an assessment of parts of their most current flier. I addressed their main fallacies. In the second bullet-point on page two, they claim that there is a ban in New York City on the sale of sodas over 16 ounces, which isn’t true, but isn’t worth the time to refute at any length.

I shot some video of the event. I have to watch it again to see if I want to comment on it. I might just upload it to YouTube and post a link to it.

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1Small Business Exemptions
2Good Food and Good Jobs for Underserved Communities
3Unregulated Work in the Grocery and Supermarket Industry in New York City

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