Workers at giant New York City produce market threaten strike

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Workers at New York’s Hunts Point Market, said to be the world’s largest wholesale produce market, voted to authorize a strike, setting the stage for possible disruption of produce supplies to thousands of area restaurants, the union said on Wednesday.

Members of the Teamsters Local 202 at Hunts Point Market voted for the job action after contract negotiations broke down with management over wages and healthcare costs, the Teamsters said in a statement.

A walkout by the union’s 1,300 workers at the giant market in the South Bronx could come as early as Friday morning, it said. Their contract expires at midnight on Thursday, it said.

According to its website, the Hunts Point Market is the largest wholesale produce market in the world. It provides fresh produce to New York City’s myriad delis and restaurants and overall employs some 10,000 people.

The market’s employers are 150 businesses that bargain with the union as a group, with total revenues of more than $2 billion, a union spokesman said.

Representatives of the Hunts Point management could not immediately be reached for comment. “These businesses have never done better, but they are refusing to pay a fair wage to the people who do the work,” said Teamsters Local 202 President Daniel Kane in a statement.

“Our wages just aren’t keeping up,” he said.

A walkout would affect thousands of smaller restaurant owners, such as those who go each morning to select produce at Hunts Point, said Chris Hickey, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association that represents about 5,000 New York City restaurants.

Those owners would have to find other places to buy produce, which could cost them extra money, he said.

Larger companies that rely on bigger distributors would be less affected, he said. Those distributors would likely get produce from New Jersey or Philadelphia, he said.

“This isn’t something that’s going to cause a huge negative impact on the industry,” Hickey said. “It’s going to require some extra leg work. Essentially you’re just going to have to figure out another place to source your product from.”

The Teamsters said they have not gone on strike at Hunts Point in nearly three decades.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)