NEW YORK — Over 50 Teamsters Local 553 strikers and their supporters rallied outside the midtown Manhattan offices of John Catsimatidis, the owner of United Metro Energy in Brooklyn, Oct. 19 demanding he reach an agreement with workers at the heating oil and gas delivery company. The workers, who voted to join the Teamsters in 2019, have been on strike for six months.
Forbes magazine reports Catsimatidis has a net worth of $3.7 billion. He owns the Gristedes grocery-store chain and a number of other energy, real estate and media companies.
“We voted for the union because we needed protection and better pay,” fuel-terminal operator Ivan Areizaga told the Militant at the rally. He explained that some of the strikers had come to the rally while others kept up the picket line in Brooklyn.
“There are other strikes taking place around the country now,” André Soleyn, also a terminal operator and the picket captain, told the rally, including strikes against Warrior Met Coal in Alabama, John Deere, and Kellogg’s. “We’re all workers together.”
Soleyn told the Militant that in spite of two years of negotiations, the company has never agreed to a contract with the terminal operators, mechanics and workers who install and service customers’ boilers. “We are asking to get the same pay and benefits as those who do the same work at other companies in the area,” he said. Some of United Metro’s workers make only half the $37 standard hourly wage for fuel-terminal operators in New York City.
After Catsimatidis bought the company in 2013, Soleyn said, it began posting profits. “They met with us and told us, ‘We appreciate you.’ But still didn’t give us more money. That’s when we went to the union.”
The company has fired some of the strikers and hired eight “replacement” workers. “But it’s not safe,” he said. There’s 6.5 million gallons of product on the company’s site. “It normally takes a year to get trained. The plant is near a waterway and a bridge. If there is a spill or explosion, people would get hurt and a lot of carcinogenic chemicals would be released.”
The union has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board to get the firings overturned.
Unionists from several Teamsters locals, a member of the Communications Workers of America who works near the Brooklyn picket lines, local politicians, and others joined the protest.
Solidarity and contributions are needed. Join the picket line! Send checks made out to Teamsters Local 553 (with “Strike Fund” on the memo line) to 265 W. 14th St., Room 305, New York, NY 10011.