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Workers Denounce Airline Catering Provider Labor Abuse in Queens

A coalition of food service workers was today joined by elected officials and UFCW Local 2013, to call on DO & CO NY, a leading airline catering company that prepares gourmet food for primarily international flights, to immediately restore seniority rights and benefits for over 40 employees who were laid off during the pandemic but are now being recalled as the economy reopens.

In a press conference held in front of DO & CO NY’s headquarters in Jamaica, Queens, the workers denounced that the company is being unfair and abusive by refusing to grant its workers called back since last Fall, and to be recalled going forward, immediate reinstatement of seniority rights and benefits, following layoff during the pandemic. These loyal employees who previously worked there from 1 to 8 years are instead being recalled as new hires, with no accrued seniority nor benefits.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, City Council Member Adrianne Adams and UFCW Local 2013 representatives, among other leaders, attended the press conference and called on the company to stop this unfair labor practices that penalize dozens of hardworking New Yorkers at a time of high-need and a major global crisis that no one could foresee. A statement from Local 2013 President Louis Mark Carotenuto was delivered to the workers. In March 2021, DO & CO received a $2 million PPP Loan from the government, intended for employee pay and benefits due to the pandemic.

“While nobody could’ve imagined just how long the impact of this pandemic would have on the country and the world, we are finally seeing businesses return to some semblance of normal and DO & CO NY has begun to recall our members…. unfortunately, however, they are doing so in a way that not only takes advantage of these workers – it kicks them while they’re down,” Local 2013 President Carotenuto said in his statement. “DO & CO needs to restore the seniority of each and every recalled worker who was laid off as a result of the COVID19 Pandemic and they need to do so now!”

At the time of the layoffs due to COVID-19-related closings, DO & CO NY’s guaranteed the reinstatement of seniority rights and benefits for a seven-month recall – which at the time was an estimation of how long the pandemic and related-closures might last. Workers and leaders at the press conference emphasized that at the time of the seven-month recall agreement, no one knew what loomed ahead with the pandemic, and now, 14 months into the crisis, it is not fair that these employees should suffer for a longer than could possibly be expected pandemic-layoff timeframe.

“It’s not our fault, we didn’t quit or leave – it was the pandemic,” said Bibi Roopnerine, who worked at DO & CO for 5 years in Logistics.

Bibi was laid off in July 2020, and the company called her back to work in September. Yet upon expressing health concerns about returning to work still during the peak of the pandemic, she was told that not returning to work due to health concerns would not affect her employment because it would be considered a “furlough.” She was recalled again in March 2021 and upon returning to work, she had to fill-out paperwork as a new employee. Bibi now has to wait a year before she can go on vacation with her family. Her kids have been cooped up all year due to the pandemic and were all looking forward to traveling together.

Liliana Bermudez-Garcia, who started to work at DO & CO in May 2018, said: “I’m frustrated because I lost my vacation days and my annuity contribution. I am sad to now only have one week of vacation again, to spend with my children. It is not fair to lose our rights because of a pandemic that is not our fault.”

Liliana was laid off during the pandemic and was called to return to work at 7 months into the layoff, but by then, she was 8-months pregnant, and the company suggested that it would not make sense for her to return to work to enter maternity leave in a matter of weeks.

The workers, mainly immigrants from local communities, ended the press conference with a chant vowing that they will do all they can in partnership with UFCW Local 2013, local elected officials and community leaders, to have their seniority rights benefits immediately restored, and send a powerful signal to other employers in New York and across the nation who might intend to use the COVID-19 pandemic to unfairly and even unlawfully, take away workers’ seniority rights and benefits that were accrued before the pandemic hit in March 2020.

Louis Mark Carotenuto’s full statement:
“We represented over 500 members working here at Do & Co New York catering prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic; as you all know, the COVID Pandemic virtually shut down the airline industry and the impact on these workers has been devastating, to say the least.

As a result of the downturn in business these workers were being forced to work short work weeks and ultimately laid off – UFCW Local 2013 fought to get the workers their Severance benefits paid out to them as was required under the CBA; we then bargained to extend their recall rights in the hope of getting through this Pandemic and seeing these workers recalled to work again.

While nobody could’ve imagined just how long the impact on this Pandemic would have on the country and the world, we are finally seeing businesses return to some semblance of normal and Do & Co NY has begun to recall our members…. unfortunately however, they are doing so in a way that not only takes advantage of these workers – it kicks them while they’re down!!

They are recalling workers who have given years of their lives to this company and forcing them to start completely over as “new employees” – no seniority to protect their rates of pay or to protect the vacation benefits they have earned in giving years of dedicated service to a company that profits from their hard work!

Do & Co needs to restore the seniority of each and every recalled worker who was laid off as a result of the COVID19 Pandemic and they need to do so now!”

By: Javier E. Gómez

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