2008-01-02 / Features

Many Fresh Direct Workers, Facing Immigrant Status Test, Quit Jobs

BY JOHN TOSCANO

At a rally on the steps of City Hall, Councilman Eric Gioia stood with (from left to right) New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, and Ed Ott, Executive Director of the New York City Central Labor Council. At a rally on the steps of City Hall, Councilman Eric Gioia stood with (from left to right) New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, and Ed Ott, Executive Director of the New York City Central Labor Council. City Comptroller William C. Thompson and Congressmember Nydia Velazquez have called on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to stop its audit of employment documentation at a Long Island City food delivery warehouse immediately.

The company, Fresh Direct, a major online grocery delivery service, has already suspended between 100 and 300 warehouse workers, most of them Hispanic, who could not provide the required records of their residency status.

According to Evan Theis, a spokesman for the Teamsters Union, Fresh Direct had more than 900 warehouse workers. The firm's

ability to continue in business may

be hampered by the loss of so many employees.

Recently, the company held a job fair to try to hire new workers, but it was not known what resulted from it.

In the midst of its problems with the immigration service audit, the company recently sustained one victory as the company's employees voted overwhelmingly against union representation in balloting conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

According to the company, 80 percent of 530 employees voted against union representation.

Meanwhile Thompson, in his call to the ICE to stop its audit, declared: "Any practice that reeks of intimidation must stop now. These workers, who spend so much of their day helping get food to the tables of so many New Yorkers, need to be able to earn a living and put food on their own tables without fear of losing their jobs and their livelihoods."

Velazquez (D- Queens/ Manhattan) added: "It is simply astounding that ICE would seemingly create an atmosphere of intimidation. All of these workers deserve to be treated fairly and this audit only serves to spark fear. Already there are reports of workers staying home, or being told to stay home. It is vitally important that ICE immediately stop this untimely audit of Fresh Direct workers."

In a letter to ICE officials, Thompson and Velazquez said that Fresh Direct's anti-union stance and the audit "have created an environment of fear among the workforce".

They also pointed out that last October 10, U.S. District court Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled against the practice of matching Social Security numbers to crack down on U.S. companies that hire undocumented workers, suggesting such actions would have a staggering impact on legal workers and firms.

The two officials also pointed out that the NLRB election was announced in November, but on November 30, ICE informed Fresh Direct that it would soon start its audit. This violated the ICE policy of refraining from audits during a labor dispute, Thompson and Velazquez said.

After the NLRB representation election vote was announced, officials of the two unions that were rejected announced they would recommence efforts to unionize the workers.

Also speaking out against ICE, City Councilmember Eric Gioia (D- Long Island City) stated: "To go after these workers the week before Christmas is heartless and cruel. We all know federal immigration policy is seriously flawed. There is no better example why than this."

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