Ignoring a soaking downpour and carrying signs reading “We want Fair Wages,” more than 100 protesters picketed a Bushwick supermarket Sunday that labor organizers claim paid zero wages to grocery baggers.
“What we have here are workers who are working for no salary at all,” said Andrew Friedman of Make the Road by Walking, a Bushwick labor rights organization.
Labor organizers called for a boycott of the Associated Supermarkets store at Knickerbocker Avenue, one of four they said had failed to pay minimum wage and overtime to more than 40 employees. Together the stores, including two in East New York and one in the Bronx, owe “literally millions” in backwages, Friedman said.
The owners and management of the Bushwick store dispute that account, saying all employees are paid fairly and that issues over wages may have stemmed from disputes with previous owners.
All employees receive minimum wage or more, paid sick days, paid vacation and overtime, Morales said.
“This is a family business,” said Nelson Veloz, one of the store’s owners. “We’re very humane to our employees.”
Veloz said none of the people protesting outside actually worked in the store and complained that labor organizers had not approached him to try to resolve any complaints.
While several labor organizers spoke at the event, Make the Road By Walking did not disclose the identities of any of the workers it claimed to represent, saying their jobs may be endangered if they came forward.
The dispute was just one sign of increasing unrest and organization among Hispanic and other immigrant laborers in the city, who say they have been underpaid and exploited. Among the groups who supported the protest were the Million Workers March Movement, the Ecuadorian United Front, and clergy from three Bushwick Catholic Churches.
Already Make the Road by Walking has reached settlements for backwages with several stores along Knickerbocker Avenue, including S & S Farms deli, which paid $28,000, Foot Co. apparel, which paid $410,000, and a pizza shop and dollar store, which together reimbursed close to $58,000 to workers, according to Friedman.
As groups like Make the Road by Walking see successes, it inspires more immigrant workers to get involved, said one Ecuadorian delivery worker who reached a settlement with a Manhattan restaurant.
“Every day we’re uniting more,” said the delivery worker, who did not want to be named because the settlement he received was confidential. “We’re seeing together we can change things.”