BY GABRIELE HOLTERMANN
The week-long strike at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx officially ended Saturday when union members approved a new contract guaranteeing workers higher wages over the next three years.
Teamsters Local 202 union members at Hunts Point Produce Market voted 285 to 6 on Jan. 23 in favor of a new contract that will increase their wages totaling $1.85 per hour over the next three years. In the first year, the raise is 70 cents per hour, the second year 50 cents per hour, and the third year 65 cents per hour.
The agreement, reached on Friday night, also includes a 40 cents per hour contribution to employee healthcare.
About 1,400 Local 202 union members went on strike on Jan. 17 — the first such work stoppage since 1986 — demanding that they should be compensated fairly, given that they kept operations at the country’s largest wholesale produce market running during the COVID-19 pandemic. Six of their co-workers died of the coronavirus, and about 300 had become ill with the contagion.
Daniel Kane, president of Teamsters Local 202, acknowledged that the last six days had been difficult but congratulated all members on ratifying a new bargaining agreement. He also hoped that their strike could set an example for workers across the nations.
“It is not often that workers take their fate in their hands and decide to put their hands together to fight for a better tomorrow,” he said. “I’m hoping that that will resonate with workers throughout this country. For too long, they have not been listened to. And I think our country better start paying attention to them. Because they do have power if they stand shoulder to shoulder.”
City Council Rafael Salamanca knows all too well about the hard work the Hunts Point employees accomplish every day. His father worked at the market and was a Local 202 member for 18 years.
“Seeing this fight, seeing this struggle this entire week, really re-energized me. I’m here just to say thank you to Local 202 because I’m here today because of your fight throughout the years,” he said. “You gave a Puerto Rican man with no education an opportunity. And my father was able to provide for his family. And here I am today, this young man from the South Bronx as a New York City Council Member because of Local 202.”
Local 202 union members were excited not only about reaching a new contract and getting back to work, but also thrilled with the support they received from other local unions and the community, including political leaders.
The strike came into the public spotlight across the city after workers clashed with cops on Monday, Jan. 18. Several high-profile elected officials, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, also showed up later in the week to support the striking workers and their efforts to get a fair wage.
For Victor, who has worked for Hunts Point Produce Market for 27 years, the show of solidarity restored his faith in humanity.
“Everybody showed up, and it gave me new hope and appreciation for the people’s power. I thought it was lost, but I see it is not. It is wonderful,” he said. He also reminded New Yorkers that Hunts Point feeds the city and continued, “We never shut down during COVID. It’s something we constantly did. And no matter where you were, you could go to your supermarket and bodega and get fruit. We made that possible.”