City agency files case against Riverdale Key Food owners who illegally fired employees during pandemic

Workers in front of Key Food in Riverdale.
Courtesy of NYC Consumer and Worker Protection

A city agency is looking out for the rights of Bronx grocery store workers after the owner of a Riverdale store illegally fired several employees.

On Thursday, Sept. 3, the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) announced that it had filed a case against a Key Food at 5661 Riverdale Ave., for illegally firing essential grocery workers during COVID-19.

The lawsuit alleged multiple violations of the city’s Grocery Worker Retention Act, which requires new grocery store owners to keep previous employees for a 90-day transitional period. DCWP requested $198,240 in lost wages for the 21 workers who were fired, which is  three times what they would have made had they been retained, as well as approximately $12,069 in lost benefits.

DCWP is also seeking $1,000 in fines from the former owner and $15,750 in fines from the current owner. This is the first case under the law that has been filed at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).

“Not only is it illegal to fire grocery workers when a store changes ownership — it’s disgraceful to toss aside these essential workers who, for many months, braved the frontlines and served their community as heroes,” said DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “This law was created to protect grocery store workers from historically volatile employment and that is more important than ever during these challenging economic times. These workers deserve better than abruptly being left unemployed in the middle of a pandemic and we will fight for their rights.”

DCWP is charging the previous and current owners with the following violations:

Riverdale Grocers LLC (former owner)

  • Failed to post a written notice 15 days prior to the change in ownership that notified employees about the change in ownership and their rights.
  • Failed to provide the new owner with the list of eligible employees and their contact information.
  • Failed to provide the workers’ union representatives with the required notice about the transfer of ownership and list of eligible employees.

NR Shop LLC (current owner)

  • Failed to retain eligible employees — those who worked for at least six months before the change in ownership — for a 90-day transitional period until Oct. 11, 2020.

“This is an unconscionable violation of workers’ rights anytime but especially cruel during a global pandemic,” said Councilman Andrew Cohen, chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing. “These are essential workers who have served our community during a time of need, some of whom have worked at this Key Food location for over 20 years. I want to thank the brave Local 338 workers who have spoken up and DCWP for taking swift action to hold violators accountable and their strong commitment to protecting the rights of our workers.”

Under the Grocery Worker Retention Act, the former owner of a grocery store must notify workers about the change in ownership and their employment rights 15 days prior to the sale. Following the sale, the new owner is required to keep all of the existing staff employed at the store for at least 90 days after the date of sale. After 90 days, the new owner can decide whether or not to keep any of the existing workers as employees.