By Ben Weiss

Key Food Meat Department Signs New Contract

 

Photo courtesy of Ben Weiss

After a lockout, public protest, and federally-mediated cooling off period, meat department workers at seven Key Food locations across Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island have a new contract.

“We got what we was fighting for,” declared Bonnie Mingo, a meat wrapper at the Greenpoint Key Food on McGuinness Blvd.

The 38 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Local 342 “overwhelmingly” ratified a new contract three weeks ago, said Kelly Eagan, director of Local 342, in an email.

Photo courtesy of Ben Weiss

This concludes a more than two-month-long fight in which Pick Quick Foods, Inc., the owner of seven Key Food supermarkets, barred meat department workers from work because of an ongoing contract dispute. Continue reading

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Is This Board Game Shop a Front For a Gambling App?

Winners Corner in Greenpoint (Ben Weiss)

Greenpoint has a new gaming store—with very few games.

Nestled into a line of boutique shops inside a repurposed warehouse on West St., Winners Corner has an airbrushed, dystopian feel. It stands in stark contrast to other local gaming stores that spill over with board games, collectible cards, and puzzles.

“I have more inventory in one folder than they have in their entire store,” exclaimed gaming buff Stergios Kostakopoulos, a 35-year-old Greenpoint resident who owns his own real estate management company, in an interview.

Kostakopoulos, the self-professed leader of his “nerd group,” perused the store’s limited stock multiple times. However, he eventually told his friends that this wasn’t the neighborhood haven they were hoping for. The employees, he alleges, were “useless” and barely knew anything about gaming.

It was in a tense conversation with the store’s manager that Kostakopoulos’s suspicions were justified. The manager, he claimed, admitted that their board games and gifts are “secondary products.”

Winners Corner, it turns out, is owned and managed by Jackpocket, an app that lets users remotely play the lottery.

Neighboring storefront to Winners Corner in Greenpoint (Ben Weiss)

This connection was lost on Kostakopoulos. The store’s website does not mention the four-year-old startup, and the only evidence of their relationship is a neighboring, closed storefront covered with Jackpocket wallpaper.

Kostakopoulos felt “betrayed.”

The opening of Winners Corner coincides with the New York State Gaming Commission’s recent March 25th approval of regulations for lottery couriers, or businesses that buy tickets for customers at a surcharge, said a spokeswoman for Jackpocket in an email. Continue reading

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Key Food Lock Out Enters Second Week as Workers Rally in Park Slope

The protest outside of Park Slope Key Food on Tuesday (via Ben Weiss)

“What?” yelled Kelly Eagan, director for Local 342, a union representing meat department workers in Brooklyn and Long Island.

“Contract!” replied the chorus of locked-out workers.

“When?”

“Now!”

Protestors lineup outside Park Slope Key Food (via Ben Weiss)

Butchers, meat wrappers, and meat clerks rallied in front of the Park Slope Key Food on Baltic Street and Fifth Avenue yesterday afternoon to demand a new contract from Pick Quick Foods Inc., owner of seven Key Food groceries in Brooklyn and Long Island. Despite negotiations that Monday evening, management and the union have still failed to broker a new agreement, said Keeley Lampo, a union representative.

(via Ben Weiss)

The lockout began April 6th in retaliation against union workers’ short-lived strike to protest what was deemed a “gutted” contract offer from the Pick Quick Foods owner, Benjamin J. Levine.

Members have begun to feel the pain of more than a weeks-long lockout. While her finances aren’t yet dire, Bronx resident Bonnie Alarcon cares for a family of four and her 76-old mother.  “It’s horrible I have to be here after so many years,” she lamented. Continue reading

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Key Food Meat Department Locked Out Due to Contract Dispute

Outside the Greenpoint Key Food (image via Ben Weiss)

On Monday, Bonnie Mingo, a meat wrapper at Key Food (224 McGuinness Blvd) buried her mother. On Saturday, she was on strike.

With little time to mourn, Mingo suddenly found herself locked out of a job she’s had for 20 years. “I’m still here supporting my coworkers when I could be out grieving. It’s hard,” she said in a late-afternoon interview, taking a break from picketing.

(image via Ben Weiss)

She, along with six coworkers, are battling Pick Quick Foods, Inc., a member of Key Food Co-op and owner of seven groceries in Brooklyn and Long Island. Approximately 35 other meat department workers in the company are also barred from returning to work in retaliation for a strike organized on Saturday, stated representatives from United Food and Commercial Workers’ Local 342.

Despite assertions that management refuses to negotiate, a public relations spokesperson from Pick Quick Foods disagrees. “We are waiting for Local 342 to return to the bargaining table,” they wrote in an emailed statement.

Seeds of this past weekend’s drama began last year when the owner of Pick Quick Foods, Benjamin J. Levine, and meat department workers started brokering a new contract after failing to reach an agreement years beforehand.

While there was the customary back-and-forth, Levine’s terms were unsatisfactory. He was trying to “gut” the contract, declared Kelly Eagan, director of Local 342, in a phone interview. She said he was proposing to cut health insurance, pensions, annuities, and access to fair wages.

Pick Quick Foods, though, disputes Eagan’s claim. “We have made offers to the union to continue competitive wages and benefits for our employees. However, the union continues to reject those proposals and is making demands that we believe will hurt our stores and customers and, by extension, our employees.”

Tensions elevated last week. Eagan alleged that ownership abruptly went dark. “They didn’t return any emails or call.” Continue reading

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Greenpoint’s Hidden Waters Explored at A/D/O

Pratt’s Astral Oil Works on the East River at Bushwick Inlet (Scientific American 1872)

Walk alongside the western Greenpoint waterfront and you’ll eventually hit a jut of water bordered by a weathered fence, marsh plants, and a lingering stench of seawater. Unlike the mammoth Hudson or Superfund-famous Gowanus, Bushwick Inlet is easily lost in the hierarchy of remarkable city waters.

This humble inlet, however, joined the limelight this past Thursday, thanks to Sergey Kadinsky, an analyst at the New York City Parks Department and adjunct professor at Touro College. Speaking at A/D/O, a design hub and workspace on Norman Avenue, Kadinsky gave a wide-ranging talk exploring the “hidden waters” across the metropolitan area.

Kadinsky took the stage as the final speaker in a series on water and design. Once a tour guide on Gray Line double-decker buses, he channeled that same brio as he barreled through the five boroughs, pointing out disappeared bodies of water at a blistering pace.

Suffice to say, the city hasn’t been kind to its ponds, streams, creeks, or lakes. Take the now-defunct Collect Pond, which used to be Manhattan’s main source of freshwater. As the city grew, so did the surrounding industry. Contaminated wastewater from breweries, tanneries, and slaughterhouses seeped into the small lake, leading officials to fill it in.

1924 NYC Map aerial survey of Bushwick Inlet to McCarren Park (via Hidden Waters blog)

Bushwick Inlet had a similar history. Fed by the disappeared Bushwick Creek, it had an illustrious career, home to a notorious rumrunner during prohibition and was also the launch site for the first ironclad warship constructed in the United States.

City officials then filled in Bushwick Creek in the 19th century, which ran through north Williamsburg and present-day McCarren Park, leading to the contraction of the inlet.

While there’s little hope for the resurrection of Bushwick Creek (its path was projected to run through the location of A/D/O), Kadinsky argued that this doesn’t prevent us from “daylighting” previously forgotten waters.

View of Bayside Oil Tanks through the weeds at Bushwick Inlet Park. Photo by Megan Penmann
Bushwick Inlet Park. Photo by Megan Penmann

For example, Collect Pond is gone for good, but city officials named a park in the same location in lower Manhattan Collect Pond Park, connecting past geography to present.

Bushwick Inlet has fared better than Collect Pond, but by all accounts needs a facelift. Luckily, it projects to be part of the northern extension of what will eventually be a complete Bushwick Inlet Park, a move to put the inlet “back on the map.” 

Via Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park
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A Fruit Salad More Than a Decade in the Making

Mr. Berry in Greenpoint (via Google Maps)

His first day in Brooklyn, Joon Yoon was baptized in true New York City fashion—with bird poop. While others would consider this an ill omen, Joon saw his unexpected baptism as a harbinger of success. “Some people say it is good luck if you get pooped on,” he explained matter-of-factly over email.

His optimism was warranted. More than two decades since his 1997 arrival in New York from South Korea, Yoon—along with his brother, Jun Yoon—now manages a small green-grocery empire. The brothers own 11 stores (including two in Greenpoint), all of which are a gentlemanly variation on the original store’s name, Mr. Kiwi at 957 Broadway in Brooklyn. They have even expanded into Queens, opening Mr. Avo this year in Long Island City.

Although now bonafide American entrepreneurs, the Yoons originally lived in a provincial capital of middling size in South Korea. Rootless and with financial difficulties, they moved to the U.S. in the late 1990s, knowing no one in the New York area. When Joon first arrived at age 23, he began working in grocery stores from the Bronx to Queens at an exhausting pace—seven days a week at 14 to 18 hours a day.

Mr. Plum (photo: Ben Weiss)

In 2006, he was faced with a choice. The Woodside grocery he worked at was closing, soon leaving him without work. Joon and his family decided to take a leap and open Mr. Kiwi, the idiosyncratic name chosen spontaneously during a road trip. In the beginning, it was hard to gain traction. “They didn’t come with a lot of money or anything… When you don’t have money, there is no one who will give you money. So, they had to start with very little product in the store. Literally, maybe a one-item-per-shelf situation,” explained Jae Lim, their office manager, over the phone.

Mr. Plum (photo: Ben Weiss)

The brother-and-father team operated the store 24 hours a day, working in shifts. Junseok Yoon, their cousin, came soon after and became an integral part of the operation. Customers appreciated the cheap produce—sourced from Hunts Point Market—and generous portions from their juice bar, detailed Lim.

13 years later, one store became 11. And Mr. Kiwi was joined by Mr. Coco, Mr. Piña, Mr. Melon, Mr. Lime, Mr. Berry, Mr. Mango, Mr. Lemon, Mr. Plum, and Mr. Avo. The Yoon family has even recently opened a salad bar in Bushwick. Continue reading

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