“After the year we just had, aren’t we worth another dollar an hour?”

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Who is more essential than Francisco Flores? A warehouseman at Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, he has 28 years on the job, including the last maniac, loading and unloading trucks, making sure that 60% of New York City’s perishable fruits and vegetables quickly reach shelves in supermarkets and in restaurant kitchens.

It‘s a manual job,” said Flores, 46, who lives with his wife and three children in the county’s Throgs Neck neighborhood and followed his own father to the market. “It‘s like working out in the gym for eight hours every night. I know every place here. ”Hunts Point is a brimming wonder, a vital link in the city’s Byzantine food chain. Those 113 acres of loading docks and cold storage are, in fact, a cooperative of 30 family-owned businesses. The market pays Life every night with a flood of trucks from farms, importers and distributors, greeted by 1,400 unionized porters and warehousemen. Those companies and their workers handle $ 2 billion in fresh food each year, from acorn squash to zigzag grapefruit. , and countless thousands of varieties in between. Also read: Biden‘s moves on food aid and the $ 15 minimum wage for federal workers add to the growing list of executive orders Workers went on strike on January 17, throwing a rare light on this key piece of urban infrastructure and creating an uncertain spectrum: food scarcity, just as the city fighting another wave of coronavirus? The strike is also another reminder that a long list of unsolicited workers has kept the city afloat through COVID-19. “When I got out of high school, my father gave me about a month,” Flores said. “Then he asked me, ‘Are you going to college?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not really a college kid.’ He said, ‘Okay, let’s go. You’re not going to sit around doing nothing. ‘ I’ve been working here ever since. “When the pandemic hit last spring, Flores recalled, he was among those cheering for hospital employees, first responders, and other essential workers.” But aren’t we essential too? “He asked.” I go to my grandmother’s house. She is eating around here. I go to my friends’ houses. I see bags of potatoes coming out of my store, maybe other stores here. I love knowing that I am playing a small role in caring from the people of the city where I was born and lived all my life. ”It is the first strike in the market in 35 years. The workers, represented by Teamsters Local 202, earn a wage of $ 18 an hour and change, around $ 40,000 a year. They are looking for a raise of $ 1 an hour plus another 60 cents to cover rising health care costs. Management has offered a 3% raise, which equates to about 54 cents an hour, noting that each worker you already receive a health insurance subsidy from $ 15,000 a year, plus pension contributions. The two sides were still talking at the end of the week, an encouraging sign, although an agreement did not seem imminent. People on both sides said they thought the city’s food chain could withstand a short strike without serious disruption, but perhaps not a longer one. “The market remains open for business and we are actively involved in the negotiations,” said Robert Leonard, spokesman for the Hunts Point property cooperative. He also noted that as the virus spread last spring, business in the market declined 30%. “We ended the year down 10%,” Leonard said. Don’t Miss: What You Need to Know About Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine in New York City Among familiar faces who participated as guests at the picket line: State Assemblywoman Amanda Septimo, New City’s public defender York Jumaane Williams and US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Food has to move all the time, and it takes a lot of hands to do it,” said Local 202 President Daniel Kane Jr., who began his own working life in Hunts Point 40 years ago. “Once COVID came in, employees couldn’t shut down and hope the virus would just go away,” he said. “They had to wash their hands, put on the mask and go to work. That’s why New Yorkers got to eat. “His own family history mirrors that of today’s crew, Kane said.” My grandfather started there in the Depression. That work lifted our family out of poverty. These people work hard and they do it. for the next generation. Their children go to college. They have hope. They have stability. They see their dreams come true through the eyes of their children. After the year we just had, they’ve been asking, ‘Aren’t we worth another dollar? another $ 1 an hour? ‘ We were always essential. It’s just that, until COVID, nobody called us that. ” Ellis Henican is a New York City-based author and former newspaper columnist.