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Cold cuts: Key Food workers locked out amid negotiations over slashed benefits

Locked out: Key Food employees, from left, Freddy Mule, Bonnie Alarcon, and Gilberto Ferreras protesting the bosses decision to slash their benefits.
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These workers are being treated like a piece of meat.

Butchers and meat wrappers at the Fifth Avenue Key Food in Park Slope have been locked out of work for more than 10 days amid ongoing union negotiations with the store’s owner, who has replaced his meat men with temporary workers as he seeks to eliminate their existing health and retirement benefits, according to the out-of-work workers.

The meat vendors have not been idle during their forced suspension, and the scorned Key Food staff have placed inflatable pigs and rats outside the market in an effort to expose the boss’s cutthroat tactics to their longtime customers. The dramatic sidewalk display is necessary for the workers to get their jobs back and support their families, they said.

“I got my wife and two daughters, my granddaughter and grandson, and I have a mortgage to pay,” said Alexander Torres, a Key Food butcher for 21 years. “It’s not easy.”

The Park Slope workers are among some 40 employees that grocery store magnate Benjamin Levine — who owns four Kings County Key Foods, including stores in Sunset Park, Greenpoint, and Bensonhurst, in addition to the Park Slope market — kicked to the curb on April 7, in retaliation to workers picketing the store during their lunch hour the day before, an action they undertook in response to the owner failing to show at several bargaining meetings.

Reps for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342 have been bargaining with Levine for more than two years, trying to prevent the annihilation of their members’ health and retirement benefits, in addition to netting the workers a modest pay increase after four years without any raises, according to a member of the union’s negotiating team.

“They’re actively trying to take ways stuff the employee’s already had,” said Lisa O’Leary, secretary treasurer for UFCW Local 342. “These people haven’t had a raise in four years. They’re not being greedy.”

The butchers, who have been replaced by temporary workers amid the lockout, have urged customers to shop elsewhere during the lockout. Many shoppers have heeded the call and sought their groceries elsewhere, but older Park Slopers tend to ignore their please for lack of any nearby alternative, according to Torres.

“Some people, especially old, people walk in,” he said. “They say they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Nobody wants to get back into Key Food more than the locked-out staffers, who described the crushing stress of unpaid bills and looming rent deadlines.

“It’s hurts so bad, to be treated like this — I’m a human being,” said Leslie Callier, who has worked as a meat wrapper at Key Food for more than 30 years. “I’m terribly stressed out. I can’t sleep. I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent. It’s killing me.”

Levine could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 3:11 pm, April 18, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

stinks says:
Key food overpriced rip off chain with lousy corporate snd store management. I miss pathmark and waldbaums.
April 18, 1:49 pm
The Mick Mack from LES says:
Surely those workers can get the same benefits elsewhere. Why don't they just find another job? Oh wait, those types of benefits aren't offered elsewhere because there is an excess supply of workers who can do this. Face the music fellas and fellettes. As the greedy landlord that is NYC continues to raise property taxes and property owners feel the squeeze they'll be forced to trim the fat. But really please keep voting for tax happy real estate friendly libs!
April 18, 2:05 pm
Frank from Furter says:
Most people forget that its because of Unions in general that you have paid vacations and benefits. Yes wages and benefits have been stagnant primarily because Unions aren't very strong anymore. Its not because of the excess supply of workers at all.
April 18, 2:12 pm
The Mick Mack from LES says:
Has this business been hurt by these guys not being on the job and temps replacing them? My guess is its been minimal if at all. It would be great for everyone to have amazing benefits, but bottom line is your paid compensation based on your work value. The temps seem to be filling in just fine. These workers should move on to find another employer willing to pay them what they believe they're worth.
April 18, 2:25 pm
Illegal alien says:
Next thing they will hire illegals. Maybe they do now and they hide them in the back.
April 18, 2:49 pm
Occasional cortex says:
Soon the government will pay their healthcare like wal mart workers.
April 18, 2:52 pm
Scabs says:
They were replaced by scabs.
April 18, 2:56 pm
Super rich says:
Haven't you figured it out yet? Thr super rich want us all to be slaves. Doesn't matter which political party.
April 18, 3:54 pm
Reply mack says:
Who cares what someone from les thinks.
April 18, 7:25 pm
Grocery shopper from Park Slope says:
They want to run the stand alone supermarket to the ground. Not many supermarkets in the neighborhood have a parking lot. Land is expensive. They get rid of union, pay low wages, cry poverty and sell the building for lots of $$. Benjamin Levine cares about nobody but himself. Levine could care less about how he treats his employees.
April 18, 10:56 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
The key Food on fifth avenue will close within the foreseeable future. The land has been sold and the plot has been through rezoning(ULURP), which has been approved. While the rezoning calls for a 25000sq foot market(without parking), it doesn't specifiy who it will be.
April 19, 7:31 am
Idiot trump supporter says:
Don't worry, trump will save us!
April 19, 10:18 am
Bob from Gerritsen Beach says:
As a retired butcher of 45 years I know all too well what these union workers are going through. To all of you people out there complaining they make too much money and benefits why not complain to your boss and ask him why you are not making that scale. And those who don't think we should have union workers at all just remember the only reason nonunion businesses pay as much as they do is because they are competing with unions fall high quality workers so they must pay more. Just check states that have hardly any union workers and you'll find most employers are making minimum or just above wages. So support these workers and boycott that store.
April 19, 2:38 pm
Joe from Neighborhood says:
C-Town, baby!
April 19, 5:07 pm
A and P says:
I am going vegetarian.
April 19, 5:53 pm
T from BATH BEACH says:
Sid thanks for filling me in something that I always wondered, how that store is still there with all that valuable real estate? I am on the workers side, but it looks like some donor of corrupt Deblasio has already grabbed the property to make a ton of money going forward.
April 19, 8:01 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
It was an urban renewal site. That is how it became so clear and with a parking lot. No one wanted it at the time. It had a 20 year lease that was up. I don't know how the people who got it got it but honestly that were at least decent to talk with(IMO)..
April 19, 10:28 pm
Janet from Park Slope says:
"Key Food" isn't a "chain" like Pathmark or Waldbaums. The stores have different owners.
April 20, 9:26 am
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Key food is a buying co-op. Some of the store owners have multiple sites. Shoprite is also a buying coop. Wegmanns is privately owned. C-town is also a buying co-op.
April 20, 5:45 pm
Jim says:
Key food is a franchise right?II
April 20, 7:46 pm

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