Far from Golden: Workers protest conditions at store
by Lisa A. Fraser
May 02, 2012 | 3212 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Workers at a Brooklyn grocery store last week protested unfair labor practices, which they say includes a lack of sick days and low wages.

The rally was held in front of the Golden Farm grocery store on Church Avenue in Kensington by New York Communities for Change, holding the grocer up as an example of many more businesses who don't offer paid sick days to their workers across the city.

“At too many New York businesses, workers must choose between their own health and putting food on the table,” Councilman Brad Lander said. “This is particularly concerning at a grocery store like Golden Farm, which we depend for a safe source for food. We want to shop at local businesses that ensure that sick workers are at home getting better, not handling the food that our families are going to eat.”

Lander and protesters were joined by Golden Farm worker, Martin Gonzales, who worked at the store for five years without paid sick days.

Gonzalez said he often comes to work sick, because he cannot afford to lose pay, and he worries that missing work could cost him his job.

Golden Farm employees reported working for less than minimum wage for a 70-plus hour work week with no overtime, vacation days, sick days or job protection. They contend that they were harassed by store managers before they sued for back wages.

In March 2011, workers at Golden Farm filed suit to demand the back wages and call for basic benefits like sick days and job security.

According to the workers, the owner, Sonny Kim, has so far refused to pay what he owes the workers who keep his store running and has refused to sign a contract guaranteeing workers basic benefits like paid sick days and job protection.

At the rally, the workers and their supporters also called for the City Council to pass a bill currently under consideration to guarantee paid sick days for workers. The proposal currently has 38 co-sponsors in the City Council, including 11 co-sponsors from Brooklyn.

Under the proposal, workers at businesses with more than five employees would earn paid sick days – nine days for businesses with more than 20 employees, and five days for businesses with five to 20. Workers at small “mom and pop” businesses with fewer than five employees would have job protection when they are sick, but the businesses would be exempt from the requirement to provide paid sick days.

The bill was shelved by Council Speaker Christine Quinn in 2010 because she was afraid it would hurt small businesses.

The bill has gained momentum following new amendments, crafted in consultation with small business owners, to provide flexibility for businesses and minimize administrative requirements.

According to advocates, numerous small business owners have voiced their support for the bill, which aims protect jobs and small businesses.

According to New York Communities for Change, more than one million New York workers lack paid sick days, with many concentrated in food service, retail and health care. When workers come to work sick, advocates say, it threatens not only the health of those workers, but also the public.

The rally was held as part of a week of action, held by New York Communities for Change and members of the Kensington community to draw attention to the unfair practices at Golden Farm and other grocers.

Last Saturday, protesters also staged a day-long boycott of Golden Farms and Councilman Jumaane Williams was on hand to show support.

The 24-hour boycott was the culmination of the seven-day community campaign in support of the workers.

“The boycott is a way to pressure the owner to settle with us and to pay us the wages that he stole from us,” said Golden Farm Worker Roberto Ramirez Martinez. “We feel stronger knowing that we have the support of so many people.”

Kensington resident Christine Van Lenten was disappointed to hear of Golden Farm's practices.

“As a nine-year customer of Golden Farm, I was dismayed to learn of its owner’s unfair labor practices,” said Van Lenten. “This is not the American Dream.”

Calls to Golden Farm by this paper in an effort to receive a comment from Sonny Kim were not returned.
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