Bronx Workers Fired Illegally In The Course Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

Published on September 03, 2020, 1:05 pm
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Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Lorelei Salas today announced that the agency has filed a case against a Key Food in the Bronx (5661 Riverdale Avenue) for illegally firing essential grocery workers during the pandemic.

The lawsuit alleges 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 is seeking $198,240 in lost wages for the 21 workers who were fired – three times what they would have made if they had 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.”

“These Local 338 members put their lives on the line to ensure that their community had access to food and the critical supplies they needed during the peak months of the pandemic — only to be cruelly terminated in the midst of this crisis. The Grocery Worker Retention Act provides vital protections to New York City’s essential workers. Local 338 is grateful to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection for its vigilance in enforcing this important law and supporting the workers at Key Food,” said Nikki Kateman, Political & Communications Director, Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW.

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; and
  • 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 October 11, 2020.

“This is an unconscionable violation of workers’ rights anytime but especially cruel during a global pandemic. 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,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen, Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing.

“This lawsuit and the actions taken by DCWP are a warning to all employers who threaten to terminate essential workers: illegally firing employees has consequences. These workers deserve what is owed to them and a workplace culture free of intimidation and retaliation,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.

“When we first began drafting the Grocery Worker Retention Act, unbeknownst to us the store closures that would be seen over the coming years and now a global pandemic, we wrote this bill understanding value of labor, the health and safety of our communities, and their economic stability. This law today is as relevant in 2020 as it was in 2016, and is a powerful reminder that New York City is a union city. All workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, especially the workers that showed up each day during a global pandemic to maintain our collective wellbeing. As Chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, I commend DCWP for their actions against this bad actor under the Grocery Worker Retention Act, and hope that the essential workers in this case are expeditiously made whole,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller.

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. For more information, including FAQs about the law or to file a complaint, visit here or call 311.

This case is being handled by Agency Attorney Emily Hoffman of DCWP’s Office of Labor Policy & Standards, which is led by Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Holt.

DCWP has multilingual educational resources for workers at here, including an overview of workplace rights during COVID-19 and overviews of their rights as they return to work. DCWP’s Update about Workplace Laws During COVID-19 provides a summary of local labor laws for employers and employees during the crisis, including an overview of local, state and federal sick leave laws. The City’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law provides workers with up to 40 hours of sick leave per year. Workers can use NYC sick leave for themselves or to care for a family member for a broad range of uses, including treatment, recovery or preventative care relating to COVID-19, to care for a child whose school has been closed as a result of the pandemic, or if their workplace has been closed by an Executive Order relating to the pandemic. Workers can contact DCWP confidentially for information or to file a complaint.

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About Department of Consumer and Worker Protection

NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCWP licenses more than 75,000 businesses in more than 50 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and, by helping to resolve complaints, DCWP protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCWP empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCWP also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities.

For more information about DCWP and its work, please call 311 or visit DCWP at nyc.gov/dcwp or on its social media sites Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

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