Mystery meat: Locked out Slope butchers warn Key Food customers not to trust new, pre-packaged meat

Mystery meat: Locked out Slope butchers warn Key Food customers not to trust new, pre-packaged meat
Photo by Colin Mixson

Butchers expelled from a Park Slope Key Food are warning customers to beware the pre-packaged meat now stocked by the store’s temporary workers, saying management has replaced them with a bunch of amateurs, who have no idea when and where the beef was cut.

“They’re bringing in some kind of pre-packed meat,” said Freddie Mulé, a manager at the Park Slope Key Food’s meat department. “We’re not even sure where it came from. We know nothing about it, but we know it’s in there.”

Workers at the Fifth Ave Key Food’s meat department have been picketing the store since April 7, when management locked them — and roughly 40 other workers hailing from stores in Brooklyn and Long Island — out of the market’s butchery in retaliation for a lunchtime rally that occurred earlier this month, as union reps negotiate for better pay and benefits with grocery-store-mogul Benjamin Levine.

To replace them, owners brought in temporary, non-union workers to staff their meat departments. In lieu of butchering the beef on site, the store is now ordering their steaks pre-cut, and the union guys are now handing out fliers to customers disparaging the new product as a mystery, saying there’s no telling who sliced it, how it was inspected, and when it was packaged.

One local man said he agrees with the banished butchers, saying he decided not to shop at the Fifth Avenue Key Food after trying their chicken breast, which tasted weird enough to send him to a Smith Street butcher for his meat going forward.

“I can’t shop at Key Food anymore, because of the meat,” said Fourth Avenue resident Frankie Perez. “I tasted it. It’s wrong.”

Union reps claimed that on Monday they spotted meat being delivered by an unrefrigerated Chevy SUV to a Key Food owned by Levine in Bensonhurst — where another lock out is in full swing — raising additional concerns about the Park Slope store as the meat department workers remain locked out.

“It’s 50 degrees out, and meat is sitting in an unrefrigerated passenger vehicle in the parking lot,” said Kelly Egan, executive director of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342.

Current meat department workers at the Fifth Avenue Key Food could not say where their meat came from, but claimed it was cut somewhere in Brooklyn and that it passed muster with the federal Agricultural Department, pointing to “USDA Approved” stickers on their pre-packaged pork chops.

A store manager, who only gave his name as John, refused to say where the meat was purchased or cut, but refuted the union’s claim that their meat was delivered by an unrefrigerated passenger car.

“They’re all lies, that’s not true,” he said.

Union negotiators have been bargaining with Levine’s reps on behalf of meat department workers for more than two years, demanding that the workers’ health and retirement benefits cut in 2015 be reinstated, and seeking what they claim is their first raise in more than four years.

Owners have retaliated with fliers posted throughout the grocery store, claiming they’ve always offered their employees reasonable benefits, and that the union is lying in an attempt to turn customers against them.

“During this time of contract negotiations, Local 342 has misrepresented our position on numerous items in an attempt to bully us,” the fliers read.

But workers have felt some success in their rallies, and many locals have shown their support by taking the business down the road, according to one local man.

“I refuse to go in here, I haven’t gone there in over a month. It’s not good. It’s not good for the workers and its not good for the neighbors,” said Don Martin, a retired police detective residing in Park Slope.

Messages left for Levine’s lawyer, Doug Catalano, were not returned.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.