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.

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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.

Quilas: Bike Sharer

I am now an official bike sharer.

How did this happen, you ask? How is it that I, who sat on the fence for so long regarding “Citibikes,” have become a card-carrying member? I received an annual membership for my birthday! And because I recently became a member of the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union*, I received a $35 discount, bringing the cost down to $60. (Although, once I saw that LESPFCU members got a $35 discount, you can be sure I would have opened an account.)

For those who live in NYCHA housing, or are members of approved credit unions, be aware that the Citibike web site might give you an error message when you enter your discount code:

citibike-error-msg

As long as you know it’s a valid code, continue with the signup process. The confirmation email you get will show the discounted price you paid.

citibike-welcome-msg
citibike-price

So in about ten business days, I will rejoin the mass of people who bike to work.
(I used to ride my bike to work a long time ago, when I lived too far away to walk).

quilas-bike-share

***

The bike share program in New York is run by a company called Alta Bicycle Share. Alta is currently under investigation by the Department of Labor after sixteen current and former employees of Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare circulated a petition asking for back pay and benefits. According to the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA), contractors and subcontractors with federal and D.C. agencies must pay their workers the prevailing wages and benefits in their locality. Alta’s 2010 contract with the District Department of Transportation states that they are bound by the wage determinations made by the SCA. According to that contract, “Bicycle Repairers” should be paid $14.43 an hour, plus either $3.35 an hour or $580.66 a month in “health & welfare” benefits. They should also receive two weeks of paid vacation and paid federal holidays. The SCA also covers part-time workers—under the act, they should be paid the same wages and receive benefits appropriate for their time spent at work.

Unlike Capital Bikeshare, the CitiBike program doesn’t receive government funds. For now, it’s completely underwritten by CitiBank and MasterCard, who paid $41 million and $6.5 million, respectively, to have their names on the bikes. The underwriters receive no profits, but the city says it will share any profits with Alta. Because the bikes are completely funded by a corporate sponsor, the workers for CitiBike are not subject to the city’s living wage law for city-funded jobs, which would require a minimum pay rate of $10.20 an hour with benefits or $11.75 an hour without benefits.

***

Back in early June, I received this email:

jerimiah-moss-petition

Jeremiah Moss has a web site called Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, but apparently he’s a MoveOn member also. (The petition came from MoveOn.org).

The idea that people who live in the vicinity of Frank’s Bike Shop and take Citibikes to get to work are causing Frank Arroyo to lose his business is absurd. People don’t rent bikes from bike stores to get to work. As far as tourists go, anyone who buys 24-hour Citibike passes still has only 30 minutes to get their bike to another station before they start incurring late charges. According to a NY Post article, Frank’s charges $30/day for a rental. A four-hour trip on a Citibike, without changing bikes every thirty minutes, would cost $73.00. There is no comparison.

People make any sort of claim, and just assume that it will be believed. What if Citibank didn’t sponsor the bike share program in New York? What if the city paid for it, under the DOT? Would these people still complain? Probably.

    Dear Quilas,

    Frank Arroyo has sold bottled water on the Lower East Side for 37 years. Recently, the city placed a water fountain in a park just 150 feet from his store, Frank’s Deli. Now his business is in jeopardy.

***

Finally, one last tidbit of information. Alta Bicycle Share is based in Portland, Oregon, and currently operates bike share programs in eight cities: seven in the U.S. and one in Australia.

  • CoGo Bike Share is a project of the City of Columbus, Ohio;
  • Bay Area Bike Share is a project in a partnership among local government agencies of the bay area of California;
  • Divvy is a program of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), which owns all of the system’s bikes, stations and vehicles;
  • Citi Bike is operated by NYC Bike Share LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alta Bicycle Share;
  • Bike Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System is a project of the City of Chattanooga and is managed by Outdoor Chattanooga, a division of Chattanooga Parks & Recreation;
  • Hubway, the Boston-area program, indicates that the program is run by the municipalities it connects;
  • Capital Bikeshare is owned by the participating jurisdictions of the Washington D.C. area;
  • Melbourne Bike Share is operated through a partnership between the government and Alta Bicycle share.

Of all of the programs operated by Alta, only New York’s is owned by a private company, and only New York’s has a company logo on the bike. Furthermore, of the programs serviced by Public Bike Share Company, the bicycle manufacturer, the only other city that has a company logo on the bike is London, and theirs is Barclay’s Bank. Maybe that makes sense.

nyc-london
 
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*The name “Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union” is, in the words of Jimmy McMillan, too damn long!

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.)

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.

Restaurants

Six of the ten lowest-paying jobs in the country are in restaurants:1

  • Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers
  • Fast Food Cooks
  • Dishwashers
  • Counter Attendants, Cafeteria, Food Concession, and Coffee Shop
  • Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurants, Lounge and Coffee Shop
  • Dining Room and Cafeteria Attendants and Bartender Helpers

Employment Numbers for the Restaurant Industry in New York City2

Job Classification Number Employed Percentage
Short Order Cooks 5,440 1.267
Chefs and Head Cooks 11,750 2.736
Fast Food Cooks 12,630 2.940
Hosts and Hostesses 14,310 3.332
Non-Restaurant Servers 19,480 4.535
Bussers and Barbacks 21,450 4.994
Dishwashers 26,020 6.058
Bartenders 27,210 6.335
Counter Attendants and Baristas 30,320 7.059
Supervisors and Managers 37,300 8.684
Restaurant Cooks 48,750 11.350
Food Prep Workers 50,130 11.671
Waiters and Waitresses 124,740 29.041
_____ _____
429,530 100.000

 

INDUSTRY SEGMENTS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON

Violations reported in all industry segments, but appear to be concentrated in
(1) expensive “white table cloth” restaurants and (2) independent family-style restaurants, including ethnic restaurants. Fast food and chain and franchise restaurants appear to have fewer violations.

THE JOBS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON

“Back of the house” restaurant jobs: Dishwashers, delivery persons, food prep, line cooks, and porters.
“Front of the house” restaurant jobs: Bussers, runners, bathroom attendants, barbacks, cashiers, counter persons and coat checkers (and in some restaurants, waiters, waitresses and hosts).

Typical wages

    Back of the house jobs:

  • Dishwasher: $180 – $300 per week.
  • Delivery person: $120 – $200 per week.
  • Line cook/food prep: $250 – $400 per week.
    Front of the house jobs:

  • Busser/barback: $150 – $200 per week including tips.
  • Runner: $120 – $180 per week (rush hours only, usually paid as
    percentage of tips).
  • Coat check & bathroom attendants: $20 – $80 a night.
  • Cashiers/counter persons: $222 – $320 per week.
  • Waiters/waitresses: $300 – $480 per week including tips.

Typical hours
On average, kitchen staff tend to work 6 days a week, between 8 and 12 hours a day, with some dishwashers and cooks working double shifts. In the front of the restaurant, bussers and runners work the same hours as kitchen staff. Wait staff tend to work 3–5 days per week (hours can range from 20–45 per week).

Payment method
Dishwashers, runners, bussers, and delivery persons tend to be off the books, while servers, bartenders and managerial jobs are more likely to be on the books. High-end and chain restaurants have the majority of their sales on credit cards, which can force more jobs to be on the books.

Benefits
Health benefits are generally not offered to front-line staff; when offered, the employee co–pay is usually high, resulting in low take-up rates. In the kitchen, workers may get one week unpaid vacation, but no sick days.

Immigration status
High representation of undocumented immigrants in back of the house jobs (as well as some lower-wage jobs in the front). But long tenures in the industry mean that there are also significant numbers of documented immigrants.

INTERMEDIARIES PLACING WORKERS IN UNREGULATED JOBS

(1) Employment agencies for immigrant workers and (2) much less frequently, non-profit public agencies for people transitioning off welfare or out of prison. At employment agencies, placement fees range from $50 up to a weeks’ earnings, paid by the worker, plus possibly an additional $25 application fee. Some employment agencies specialize in restaurant placements for Mexican workers.

COMMON WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS

Minimum wage and overtime

  • Minimum wage: The industry’s pay structure of flat weekly wages for more than full-time work suggests that minimum wage violations are common. For example, typical earnings of $300 per week for 60 hours translates into an hourly wage of $5 (without considering time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours). Coat checkers and delivery persons can make as low as $3 an hour.
  • Overtime: Non-payment of overtime appears common for almost all positions.
  • Tips: For tipped positions, common violations include being paid only in tips, or the employer taking a percentage of tips. Bussers often do not get tips owed them.

Non-payment of wages
Occurs mainly for kitchen jobs, especially dishwashers. Can take the form of full non-payment, partial non-payment, or several months backlog of payment.

Illegal deductions
Workers report employers deducting arbitrary amounts from wages for broken plates, spoiled food, etc.

Meal breaks
Lack of meal breaks, or erratic meal breaks, is a pervasive problem. A single meal break for a 12-hour shift is common.

Employer taxes
Restaurants are heavily cash-based, and most workers do not receive pay stubs. Employer taxes are often not paid, or not paid for the actual number of workers on site.

OSHA
Health & safety violations occur mainly in kitchens: electrical dangers, inadequate fire safety, lack of cutting guards on machines, lack of slip mats, lack of required ventilation.

Workers’ Compensation
Rarely offered. Employers may pay a one-time hospital bill out of pocket in order to avoid an official claim, and instruct workers to say that the injury did not occur at work.

Discrimination
Evidence of discrimination in hiring and promotion on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, and accent – particularly for front of the house jobs. Harassment based on national origin and gender.

Retaliation & the right to organize
Employers’ retaliation in response to complaints about working conditions and attempts to organize include threats to call immigration, punishing the worker with bad shifts or bad hours, and outright retaliatory firing.

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1The 10 Lowest Paid Jobs in America
2Employment Numbers for the Restaurant Industry in New York City
3Unregulated Work in the Restaurant Industry in New York City
The Welcome Table

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