BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
Trade Fair Supermarket in Jackson Heights played the Grinch and ruined Christmas for more than 50 families by selling the store without giving their employees or the union prior notice.
On Dec. 13, Local 338 Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union/United Food and Commercial Workers and Local 342 United Food and Commercial Workers members stood with the terminated workers and local elected officials to condemn the owner, Farid Jaber, who owns nine Trade Fair Supermarkets in Queens, for selling his store and violating the union’s contract.
The group also called on the new owner, Mohammed Haque of Amana Key Food, to rehire the terminated workers.
With a long history of unscrupulous behavior, according to Local 338, the company is nine months behind on its payments and as a result, many Local 338 members and their families may have their healthcare benefits terminated on Jan. 1.
Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), one of the elected officials supporting the workers, said he is outraged by the way Jaber has treated his employees.
“For far too long, he has been a bad neighbor,” Dromm said. “He has repeatedly intimidated his workers. Now, as he’s trying to sell his business, he did it again by not giving his employees any notice of the store’s closure.”
Afif Ghossein, 27, a cashier at the Trade Fair Supermarket on 37th Avenue for five years, said many of his colleagues who were ready to clock-in on the morning of Dec. 10 were shocked to learn that their jobs were no longer theirs.
Ghossein, who helps his family pay their monthly bills, said “I am not standing still and I am speaking out with the union.”
“My only backup plan is to apply for another job, hopefully where I will be treated better,” he said.
John Durso, president of Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, said the owner’s actions are disgusting and inexcusable.
“The sale of a supermarket is not something that happens overnight, and for Farid Jaber to not give his workers any advance notice that this was a possibility; to lay off 50 people just two weeks before Christmas says a lot about what kind of person Mr. Jaber is and what he thinks of his workforce,” Durso said.
Durso said the buyers, Amana Key Food, filed an application for a liquor license with the State Liquor Authority for the same address, which means the sale has been in progress for more than a month.
“The fact is, we now know that this sale has been in the works since at least the beginning of November,” Durso added.
Kate Meckler, director of communications for Local 342 UFCW, said the community in Jackson Heights has already suffered enough as a result of Trade Fair’s bad behavior over the past year and now they are faced with this unjustifiably selfish move, just before the holidays.
“At a time when families are gathering and giving thanks, the owner of Trade Fair, Frank Jaber, is showing once again that he has no heart or respect for hard-working New Yorkers,” she said.
As of now, a Local 338 spokesperson said the union is having preliminary talks with the old and new owners.
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between Trade Fair and Local 338, it demands that in the case of a sale or closure of the store, the owner is to provide the union and the workers with at least two weeks’ notice. Furthermore, Trade Fair has a legal obligation to bargain with Local 338 over the closing of the store, including discussing the terms of wages and benefits that are owed, as well as any severance.
The company’s actions are also a potential violation of the Warn Act, which in New York State may require employers to provide their workers with at least 90 days notice of a closure.
Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Tsakhuja13.