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Produce Shortages Possible As Workers Strike For Higher Wages

Produce distributed by Labor, the largest U.S. wholesale produce market, faces possible shortages as the company’s workers protest in favor of a wage increase, The New York Times reported.

Unionized workers at Hunts Point Produce Market, which plays a central role in New York City’s food supply chain supplying produce to supermarkets and restaurants, entered their sixth straight day of the strike Friday, The New York Times reported. The workers, members of the Teamsters, had asked for an additional $1 per hour wage increase, but the market countered with a $0.32 per hour wage increase.

But, Hunts Point Produce Market has been able to avoid any shortages or disruptions so far, according to the vendors that operate the facility, ABC affiliate WABC-TV reported. The company has hired non-unionized workers who are working alongside members of the management team to fill the gap while the union workers strike.

“The unionized workers at the Hunts Point Produce Market are scheduled to go on strike … after negotiations broke down when management refused to budge from a stingy offer for workers who kept New Yorkers fed through the pandemic,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 said in a statement Saturday.

Hundreds of workers began striking Sunday after they approved the measure in a vote, the union added.

The Hunts Point Produce Market workers have an average base salary between $18 and $21 per hour, according to the Teamsters. They argue the wage increase is deserved given their continued work throughout the coronavirus pandemic and say Hunts Point Produce Market can afford it after receiving more than $15 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans.

“We’re all living in an uncertain world. I might be dead tomorrow, you might too,” Charles Machadio, vice president of Teamsters Local 202, told the NYT.

The market should recognize that the workers “have been coming to work, keeping your businesses going, risking their lives,” he said.

Hunts Point said it spent $3 million on personal protective equipment for workers and hasn’t laid off its union workers, continuing to pay them benefits throughout the pandemic which has hurt the company’s bottom line, according to the NYT.

“Despite all of these challenges, we are very proud to have kept our union workers — the vast majority of whom live right here in the Bronx — working and on payroll with full health benefits as the Bronx has seen an unemployment rate of 40 percent,” Hunts Point merchants said in a joint statement to the NYT.

Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited the market workers’ picket line Wednesday night offering her support to their arguments, according to the New York Post.

“There is no working person in New York City that I can think of, that would think that what you’re doing is wrong,” Ocasio-Cortez said addressing the striking workers, the Post reported.

Teamsters Joint Council 16 and Hunts Point Produce Market didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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