Cops Arrest Essential Union Workers Striking for $1 Raise

Workers at the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market have been peacefully striking since Sunday for better wages and health care.
January 19, 2021, 5:19pm
Cops Arrest Essential Union Workers Striking for $1 Raise
Screengrab: Teamsters Joint Council 16

On Monday night, police officers arrested peaceful striking workers at the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market in New York City who were demanding a small hourly raise from management. 

More than 1,400 workers at the market are on  strike after management refused to raise their hourly wages by $1  and a 60 cent hourly raise to fund health care benefits. Management at the market had countered with a 32 cent per hour raise. 

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Early Tuesday morning, Teamsters Joint Council 16—representing the union of striking workers, Local 202—posted videos to Twitter of NYPD officers arresting peaceful strikers on a picket line. In one video, strikers can be seen raising their hands up shouting "Hands up, don't shoot" as police officers swarm them. In another video, officers rush the strikers as a robotic voice booms in the background. 

It’s unclear how many arrests were made, but a Teamsters press release notes that “several” workers were arrested. Spokespeople for Teamsters and the NYPD did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment. 

“It is outrageous that after being called essential heroes for months, several of our members were arrested while peacefully protesting for a raise today,” said Daniel Kane Jr. president of Teamsters Local 202, in a statement.  “These are the essential workers who went to work every day through the worst of the pandemic to feed New York. All they are asking for is a dollar-an-hour raise so they can feed their families too. The fact that they were arrested on Martin Luther King Day reminds us what side of history we are on.”

Striking workers included warehouse workers and truck drivers, with a base annual salary of $40,000—adequate only for a single adult with no children in the city. In 2018, about 17 percent of New Yorkers lived below the poverty line—in Hunts Points/Longwood, that number is nearly 38 percent

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The Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market in the Bronx is the largest of three cooperative markets that form the backbone of the Hunts Food Distribution Center, which itself is the largest cluster of food sources in the city. Over 155 public and private wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers operate there, but the produce market alone captures about 60 percent of all produce sales in the city and is the largest produce marketplace in the country.

This is the first strike at the market since January 1986. In 2012, Local 202 threatened to strike after management proposed an hourly raise of 14 cents while reducing contributions to the union's health and welfare funds. In 2015, another strike was nearly authorized when it seemed negotiations would fall apart as unions asked for a $25-per-week raise and management countered with $16-per-week. 

Also on Monday night,  the NYPD attacked Black Lives Matter protesters commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. at City Hall Park. Videos posted online show charging into protests and hitting them, while witnesses report that police told protesters to get on the sidewalk then began grabbing, attacking, and arresting members of the crowd.

The fact that the NYPD has its own union has clearly not stopped the organization from strike-breaking or, as it did all summer, rioting against protests. It’s not clear why police officers should have a union or be a part of the labor movement when they've repeatedly chosen to use their power against workers and demonstrators. Instead, they’ve chosen to accumulate political power, dismiss accusations of police brutality, shield themselves from scrutiny, and form ties with racists and white supremacists.

The market is still open for business, but the strike will continue until workers can reach an agreement with management. "It's not good enough just to clap for them, and say they're essential," Teamsters Local 202 President Danny Kane told CBS New York. "When they asked for a decent raise, a fair number, they should be told, 'Yes, you can have that, and thank you."