nline grocery service Fresh Direct is set to move from the Long Island City headquarters it has occupied since 2002 to Mott Haven, The Bronx, having outgrown the space it presently occupies. In February 2012, the company settled on the site in The Bronx after protracted negotiations resulted in a $130 million package of tax breaks, tax credits and capital investments pledged by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to help Fresh Direct relocate from its cramped Long Island City base to the Harlem River Rail Yards. The offer from New York City and state officials beat out an offer of some $100 million in public benefits to move to New Jersey.
The move is not without controversy. Residents of the neighborhoods in The Bronx claim that Fresh Direct will send polluting trucks through areas that suffer from asthma rates that are already astronomical. Community activists were unhappy that the deal had been pushed through without their having had an opportunity to review and comment on it and the head of a now-defunct South Bronx food co-op criticized Fresh Direct for not delivering to the South Bronx area. Four months later, in May, Fresh Direct was set to announce that it would accept delivery orders from every Bronx ZIP Code as of May 21 and would become the first New York grocer approved to accept Food Stamps as payment over the Internet.
Community groups also deplored the fact that there were no written guarantees that Fresh Direct would hire a set number of Bronx residents. Fresh Direct had maintained that the move would result in its hiring some 1,000 more workers. Whether those workers will join unions is another point of controversy. In 2004 and 2005, International Brotherhood of Teamsters locals ran two unsuccessful campaigns to organize Fresh Direct’s 500 delivery workers. Local 348S of the United Food and Commercial Workers ran a successful organizing drive in 2006 and subsequently negotiated a five-year contract for Fresh Direct drivers that included no minimum starting wage and had a maximum that capped the highest wages the company must pay at $12 to $18. Raises totaled $2.55 over the life of the contract. UFCW Local 348-S subsequently announced its intention to organize the warehouse workers and later filed for an election, held on Dec. 22 and 23, 2007. Approximately 530 out of the 900 warehouse workers voted; the results saw 426 workers voting against joining any union, 73 workers voting to join the Teamsters, and 31 workers voting to join UFCW 348-S.
Shortly before the December 2007 election, Fresh Direct released a memo to its employees asking them to verify their eligibility to work in the United States because it was responding to an audit by federal immigration authorities. As a result, 100 to 300 employees were dismissed, suspended or quit days before the vote was scheduled.
—Linda J. Wilson