‘Don’t go back to work until you get paid what you’re worth!’ AOC, Williams rally around striking Bronx Teamsters

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says it is poignant that the strike began on MLK day.

By Dean Moses

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams met with Hunts Point Market Strikers as the protest entered its fourth day Wednesday night in the Bronx.

Since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 18, hundreds of Hunts Point Market workers halted all labor after talks of an hourly wage increase deteriorated. Strikers have since camped in the area while awaiting the word of a pay increase. The members of Teamsters Local 202 keep warm amid the frigid temperatures by snapping tree branches and adding several blocks of wood to crude bonfires. Ash and sparks dance in the night air, prompting eyes to well with tears as they also attempt to maintain full bellies thanks to an onsite barbecue.

The team, which helps provide produce throughout New York, believes they will win their fight, with attitudes mostly jovial thanks—in part—to constant music blaring through portable speakers.

While the group is attempting to keep spirits high, it has not been an easy half-week. From braving the blistering cold to engaging in altercations with NYPD officers who broke the picket line just after midnight on Tuesday, arresting several strikers for what were allegedly noise complaints.

Hunts Point Market workers keep warm by lighting bonfires. Photo by Dean Moses
Strikers snap branches in order to keep fires burning. Photo by Dean Moses

The story of essential workers demanding “their fair share” has resonated with many within the city, including elected officials. AOC and Williams arrived at the picket line just after 7:30 pm Wednesday evening. The representatives were met with a ceremonial welcome, many at the market rushing to the pair and thanking them for their support. Amidst the dying embers of a rotting fire and the renewed vigor of a hopeful workforce, Ocasio-Cortez championed the Hunts Point strike.

“I do not believe it is an accident that this action started on Martin Luther King Day. I think about one of the last remarks Martin Luther King made, it was called from the mountain top. What was King doing on that last day, on that last speech? He was standing up — just like you — with sanitation workers and the union workers, demanding better working conditions, demanding an end to poverty,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams speak to workers. Photo by Dean Moses

Inspired by this speech one worker brandished his cell phone, which depicted a photograph of a baby and yelled: “This is why I do what I do! This is why I am out here!”

Ocasio-Cortez agreed, adding, “You are not just standing up for your baby, you are standing up for babies all across this country. There are food workers in every pocket of the United States who deserve more than a dollar!”

A man displays the reason why he is striking. Photo by Dean Moses

Williams echoed this sentiment.

“One of the things that hurt me the most was when I saw that management had the audacity to say ‘You should be grateful that you have a job.’ I have a message for management: You should be grateful that you have a job! You should be grateful that you have a workforce that helps you keep your job. How dare you tell these working men and women that they should be grateful,” Williams said, adding, “Don’t go back to work until you are respected for the work you are doing!”

Williams and Ocasio-Cortez spent the evening listening to workers’ stories and viewing the conditions they are currently residing in.

“Don’t go back to work until you get paid what you are worth,” says Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Photo by Dean Moses
Workers wave a flag. Photo by Dean Moses