Tune in tonight – BronxTalk @ 9pm

South Bronx Unite will be appearing on BronxTalk on TONIGHT 3/12 9pm ET,  to discuss the film, Battle for Brooklyn and FreshDirect.
The show is live on Cablevision’s channel 67 & Verizon Fios channel 33 each Monday night at 9pm.
Please pass the word and call in if you can.
If you want to ask a question, here is the number.

Fresh Direct deal: another sellout

Fresh Direct deal: another sellout
By Karen Argenti
To the editor: 
In response to the FreshDirect article in The Riverdale Press, this has nothing to do with the company.
The problem with this Bronx move is that it is another sellout. We are all too familiar with this concept, as it was first used in a gross attempt to build a filter plant in Van Cortlandt Park. A filter plant does not belong in a park.
After that, the sellout was for the new Yankee Stadium, also in a park. A major league baseball field and its adjacent 10,000 parking spots should not displace the community’s well-used park.
For some time, the neglected Harlem River Waterfront has been salvaged for projects that don’t fit anywhere else. An MTA car washing garage does not belong on the waterfront and affronts the eyes of the boating public in a place that was once the recreational center of the city.
Concrete companies, railroad storage areas and other construction dumping areas abound — all NYC leases or sales. The use of the real Gateway to the Bronx at the Harlem River Yards (between the Willis Avenue Bridge and the RFK Triboro Bridge) should be a welcoming icon, not filled with warehouses. This area is not only on the waterfront, but is also across from a great waterfront park on Randall’s Island.
Sad that we have forgotten about creative planning.


For Immediate Release – Battle for Brooklyn at Bronx Documentary Center


For Immediate Release
Contact: Ed Garcia Conde 917.532.7504 themayor@welcome2melrose.com
                Lily Kesselman 917.532.7884 lily@lilykesselman.com
March 5, 2012
Join South Bronx Unite Stop Fresh Direct; Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn; and Good Jobs New York for a screening of the award-winning documentary Battle for Brooklyn at Bronx Documentary Center.

Thursday, March 8 at 7:00pm
614 Courtlandt Avenue (@ 151st St.)
Bronx, New York 10451
(close to the 2 or 5 train at 3rd Avenue—149th)
Battle for Brooklyn (93 minutes) follows the story of reluctant activist Daniel Goldstein as he struggles to save his home and community from being demolished to make way for a professional basketball arena and the densest real estate development in U.S. history.
The film will be followed by a Q&A featuring the filmmakers; Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s Daniel Goldstein; Good Jobs New York’s Bettina Damiani; and South Bronx Unite Stop Fresh Direct. The discussion will explore how mega economic development deals that seem isolated are connected by grassroots struggles that affect us all. Panelists will discuss the seven-year battle over Forest City Ratner’s eminent domain abuse at Atlantic yards and the current burgeoning struggle against the city’s proposal to help move FreshDirect, the online grocer, from Queens to the Bronx waterfront, where activists have long been trying to establish a greenway. Both are campaigns against destructive, undemocratic, and publicly subsidized land deals bolstered by spurious promises of jobs that, as “Battle for Brooklyn” proves, never seem to materialize.


Bloomberg played favorites with FreshDirect

Here’s an article posted by Grubstreet!

The Fresh Direct Bronx-Bloomberg Drama Is Delivered Again

    • 3/5/12 at 10:40 AM


Playing favorites to Fresh Direct?
Who would have thought smoked almonds and a carton of overpriced cantaloupe could create such a big sociological divide, but now another writer is speaking out in the never-ending saga about Fresh Direct’s unfair wages and alleged discrimination – a problem only magnified Michael Bloomberg’s unabashed adoration of the company, as evidenced by his huge handouts and continued public support. The topic is as heated as their hot, fresh salsa (two for $5
Playing favorites to Fresh Direct?
dollars this week!). [Alter Net]

Click here for the full article

FreshDirect chose the MOST EXPENSIVE option!

Unbelievable!  FreshDirect not only identified and has the ability to stay and expand in Long Island City, a move to the Bronx represents the highest cost option!

“To meet its long-term space requirements, Fresh Direct has identified three primary options:

Long lsland CityFresh Direct has identified a lot adjacent to its Borden Avenue facility which the Company could purchase and develop. The lot would accommodate a new 96,000 square foot expansion facility, which, combined with the extension of one or more of its recently leased facilities would provide the necessary capacity to accommodate the
planned growth
. While operating from multiple facilities creates inherent inefficiencies,  this option provides for the least amount of business disruption and lowest employee attrition. Further, this option requires the lowest level of capital investment, allowing the Company to deploy those resources to other areas of the business operations.

Harlem River Yards, Bronx: The Company is considering a green site in the Bronx for the construction of a new 325,000 square foot facility, plus additional mezzanine space. Under this scenario Fresh Direct would consolidate all of its Long Island City  operations into the new Bronx facility. While new construction on this site represents the
highest cost option, requiring significant upfront capital
, it achieves two of Fresh Direct’s primary occupancy objectives by delivering highly efficient operating space with limited business disruption and employee attrition.

Secaucus Road, Jersey City: Fresh Direct also is considering a new construction project in New Jersey. The Company has narrowed its search to a single site facility on Secaucus Road in Jersey, where it would construct a new facility of approximately 400,000 square feet.  As with the Bronx option, the full Long Island City operations
would be relocated and consolidated into this new facility. While this option achieves the desired operational efficiencies, it results in the highest level business disruption and employee attrition, and requires significant upfront capital investment.

How FreshDirect Delivers Misery Along With Your Groceries–And How Workers and the Community are Fighting Back

How FreshDirect Delivers Misery Along With Your Groceries–And How Workers and the Community are Fighting Back

The upscale grocery delivery service pays less than $9 an hour, has faced discrimination complaints, and is a union-buster–so why is New York giving it a handout?

Photo Credit: erostend via Flickr
New York City, like most of the country, is hurting for jobs—good jobs that pay a living wage and provide benefits so that people can support their families. Yet billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., is about to hand over $129 million in public money, through tax exemptions and direct subsidies, to FreshDirect, a grocery delivery service that is notorious for underpaying its workers, has faced multiple accusations of discrimination and has been accused of using all sorts of shady tactics to block its workers from joining a union.
FreshDirect has made its home for years in Long Island City, Queens, but now claims to need a bigger facility. After New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie waved a $100 million package of subsidies and tax breaks at the grocer, New York’s politicians felt the need to win its allegiance back. New York Times reporter Michael Powell wrote of the plan, “The deal puts the welfare in corporate.”
FreshDirect, which mainly delivers to affluent neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn, advertises fresh and local groceries, ready-made meals, and other attractive options to busy, middle-class urban consumers. But its delivery drivers and warehouse workers make less than $9 an hour, and the company, co-founded and headed by a former investment banker, Jason Ackerman, has no plans to deliver its products to the South Bronx community where it wants to build its 500,000-square-foot taxpayer-funded facility. New York City Public Advocate Bill deBlasio recently used the firm as an example in arguing that the city should require a stricter code of conduct for companies that receive public assistance. Currently, he wrote, “we essentially end up subsidizing some owners of big businesses to mistreat workers, keep profits for themselves and suppress fair bargaining.”
Mayor Bloomberg and borough president Diaz claimed in an op-ed that “FreshDirect is a true New York success story, growing over the last decade from a small startup to a company with almost 2,000 employees. Small businesses are the backbone of our city; when they grow, we want them to grow here in the five boroughs — not in the suburbs or in another state.”
But local activists and the company’s own workers aren’t sure they’ll see any benefits from the move, whether in jobs or in access to better food—certainly not enough to outweigh the negative impact on their neighborhood from the company’s trucks streaming in and out. While the company’s workers struggle for fair treatment, South Bronx residents are organizing to protest the move.
South Bronx resident and community board member Mychal Johnson told AlterNet that the residents are tired of having their problems ignored while the city showers cash on corporations. “The South Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the nation, continuously dumped on with all the worst New York City has to offer.”
Taking Advantage of the Bronx
Currently, FreshDirect will only deliver to the wealthier, northwestern Riverdale and Kingsbridge sections of the Bronx. Ackerman, WNYC recently reported, claimed “We absolutely would be in the Bronx,” except for the fact that “we’ve always felt that the Bronx has not wanted our service.” He also said that while negotiating the tax break and subsidy package that would keep the company in New York, the question of whether FreshDirect would deliver to the neighborhood that will house the company never came up.
Part of the problem for the community is that FreshDirect, which sells organic and local produce as well as more familiar brand-name groceries, doesn’t accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or WIC (Women, Infants and Children) benefits, upon which 66 percent of South Bronx residents depend to feed their families. Even some food trucks and carts accept these benefits, so residents argue that FreshDirect is perfectly capable of taking them if it wants to.

“It really doesn’t fit their business model to say they accept food stamps, as they’re trying to service people who live in affluent areas,” Johnson said. “Their customer base is people who want to have their food delivered to their door, not people who need to have fresh food or good service or access to decent foods or variety or choice.”
The biggest argument for building FreshDirect’s facility in the Bronx is, of course, jobs. But Johnson pointed out that the company has only promised to create 1,000 jobs over 10 years, and that it’s promised only 30 percent of those jobs to South Bronx residents. That’s only 300 jobs for a borough with a 14-percent unemployment rate and 39 percent of its residents living in poverty.
Sandy Pope, president of Teamsters Union Local 805, which has been working to organize FreshDirect’s current workers, thinks the money could be much better spent actually helping the South Bronx. “Why do we have little trucks that leave instead of getting big trucks that come in with food for supermarkets here?” she asked.
Johnson agreed. “We definitely need more choices and better, healthier choices, but give that money to incentivize that kind of business to come here rather than giving one business $129 million. You could get a lot more impact by diversifying and giving it to a lot of businesses,” he said.
John C. Liu, the city comptroller, opposed the deal, saying, “For the cost of this benefits package the city could give 4,385 students full four-year scholarships to CUNY or hire 1,458 new teachers or pay for 350,000 GED test-prep programs or launch a micro-lending program for minority and women entrepreneurs.”
Part of the anger at FreshDirect’s move comes from the fact that residents feel completely shut out of the process. The decision was announced without any meetings with the community board, of which Johnson is a member. “It never came before the land use subcommittee, it never came before the full board, we only heard about the plan when it was announced, then two days later there was a public meeting at the IDA office, in the financial district,” Johnson, a member of the board, said. “Nothing happened in our community, where residents of this area could voice their concerns about how this would affect them, until it was already a done deal.”
Sandy Pope, who was involved in a community fight over development at the Red Hook piers in Brooklyn, said during that fight there were numerous meetings in the neighborhood with the community board. When it came to the less-desirable real estate in the South Bronx, though, residents were left out of the loop, their input not considered.
Looking at FreshDirect’s sweetheart deal, Michael Powell noted that the company pays $48,000 a year (nearly twice what its average warehouse worker makes) to a well-connected lobbyist, Evan Stavisky’s Parkside Group. This year, with the move coming, Powell reported that the company added Steve Polivy of Akerman Seterfitt, giving him $17,825–so far–to lobby city politicians and the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, a public agency, for subsidies for FreshDirect.
Pope contended that the company has never been viable without government aid—from the very start, it relied on subsidies and tax breaks from the city. Without taxpayer dollars and low pay for its workers, she said, the company wouldn’t still be in business. “As investors, the EDC, whoever is making these decisions, they’re not looking at the viability of this company,” she said.
But Bronx borough president Diaz is all in, even setting up a Facebook page for “supporters” of the move. Yet that might not be working out the way he thought it would. One of those “Bronxites for FreshDirect” says “this is ridiculous!!! further low wage jobs, pollution and gentrification!! no to fresh direct! what are u thinking mr borough president!” Another says “If they won’t deliver to me (12 blocks away from proposed site) I don’t want them here. The insult makes me want to spit out of sheer disgust as to how we are a 2 class city.”
“I think they’re using us,” Josephina Colon, a South Bronx resident, told AlterNet.
Exploited Workers
Even if FreshDirect does bring 300 new jobs to the South Bronx, what kind of jobs will they be?
FreshDirect’s current workers barely make a living. Nearly 40 percent of the company’s employees make less than $25,000 a year. For hauling boxes in the refrigerated warehouse in Long Island City, workers get $8.75 an hour; drivers make $8 and the chance of being tipped—but since the company already charges a $5 delivery fee and requires customers to pre-pay by credit card, tips are anything but a sure thing.
Local 805 has been struggling for years to organize the FreshDirect workers, who Pope points out make about 20 to 25 percent less in wages and benefits than other non-union workers in the city. The company, though, has used every trick in the book to block the organizing drive.
Public Advocate deBlasio wrote in 2010 that the workers make only two-thirds of what the average warehouse worker makes nationwide—this in one of the most expensive cities in the country. The healthcare package FreshDirect offers is unaffordable to most of its employees, Pope said. And in the past four years, the company has faced 27 discrimination complaints and nine unfair labor claims filed with city, state and federal agencies.
“We spent 2010 and 2011 working on pressuring FreshDirect to just agree to neutrality, no card check, just an expedited election,” Pope told AlterNet. The maintenance workers led the way in the union fight, but, Pope said, at the last minute the company moved workers into the maintenance unit, stacking the vote against the union. Still, even with all the company’s pressure, they only lost the union election by a single vote.
Low-wage jobs like the ones FreshDirect provides often leave workers dependent on public assistance to pay their bills. So taxpayers end up on the hook both for the subsidies and tax breaks given to the company to keep it from leaving town, and then on the back end, paying for workers who can’t afford health insurance but still get sick, or can’t afford to feed their families without SNAP and WIC benefits The Bronx already has plenty of working poor residents struggling to get by. Will 300 more low-wage jobs change anything?
Pope remains convinced that the company is only viable because the government keeps it afloat. “You’ve got a company that has not yet proven they can operate without subsidies, with an underpaid workforce with no benefits. What if they actually had to pay people even minimally OK wages and benefits?” she asked.
Immigration Raids and the Chill Factor
In the midst of the Teamsters’ organizing drive at FreshDirect, a surprise Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit was announced, checking the low-wage employees for immigration documents. According to Pope, about 300 workers were driven off by the immigration check.
Pope suspects the company called in an audit in order to break up their organizing drive. It wouldn’t be the first time ICE has conveniently arrived just in time to shut down workers’ attempt at forming a union.
Under the Obama administration, silent ICE audits have replaced worksite raids as the method of choice for cracking down on undocumented workers. While there are consequences and penalties against the employer, it’s the employees who bear the brunt of the impact as they are the ones out of a job. “If you’re an employer in a facility being unionized, an ICE audit is basically a gift in disguise because firing undocumented workers turns into an act of compliance with the law, as opposed to busting a union,” Carlos Jimenez, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, said.
It’s hard to prove for sure what triggers an investigation, he noted, because they tend to target low-wage workplaces, which tend to have a concentration of undocumented workers, and also tend to be a focus for labor unions attempting to organize workers. The raids, while on the surface not clearly connected to a union drive, don’t actually make conditions better for the workers who do remain. “It’s not like employers start treating their employees any better once they verify they’re all documented,” Jimenez pointed out. “In fact the raids probably have the opposite effect; the people who remain might start to associate the firings with their efforts to make improvements at work. And undocumented workers at other facilities might fear that if they try to form a union, the same thing will happen to them.”
That’s certainly been the case for FreshDirect. After the raid, Pope noted, the workers have been less likely to speak out. “They just felt like anything could happen,” she said.
Greenwashing and High-Tech Cred
FreshDirect was ranked as one of New York City’s “top startups” in 2010, valued then at $300 million, but despite its high-tech gloss relies, as we’ve seen, on a decidedly low-tech business model—low-paid warehouse workers loading lots of trucks that are driven by low-paid workers to the doorsteps of, for the most part, harried middle-class Manhattan and Brooklyn residents. The sleek 21st-century image of a green web-based company delivering local food (at premium prices), fresh produce, supporting local farmers, using recycled boxes, relies on a fleet of trucks that still run on diesel (despite years-old promises to replace them with biodiesel and electric vehicles).
The (non-binding) promise FreshDirect made to the Bronx is that it will convert, within five years, to a completely green fleet of trucks, but Bronx residents don’t believe it. A website set up to oppose the company’s move and attendant subsidies argues, “FreshDirect would exacerbate asthma rates among a community already facing asthma hospitalizations at five times the national average. FreshDirect would add upwards of 2,000 diesel truck trips per day through a residential neighborhood. The same public land set to house FreshDirect already holds a FedEx hub making over 1,400 daily truck trips through the neighborhood, the New York Post printing and distribution center, and a 5,000-ton-per-day waste transfer station, one of four waste transfer stations within a 1/8 mile radius of the proposed site.”
Pope said that larger trucks delivering groceries to local stores around the city have to observe stricter rules after a Department of Transportation study on how to reduce pollution, but by subsidizing FreshDirect, the city is now encouraging the propagation of little trucks all over the city. In 2009, then-attorney general (now pro-FreshDirect governor) Andrew Cuomo came to a settlement with FreshDirect that included $50,000 in fines for violating anti-idling laws after city residents complained about the trucks idling and releasing pollutants in their neighborhoods. And as far back as 2007, the company promised to switch to biodiesel and plug-in electric vehicles—promises that have so far not come to pass.
“We’re giving them $10 million to buy trucks from Smith Electric, they’re saying within five years that they’re going to convert their entire fleet,” Johnson commented. “If they didn’t do it in 2007, why would they now? It’s just telling us fairy tales.”
Johnson also pointed out that the Harlem River Yards land where the FreshDirect facility will go was supposed to be used to reduce traffic by developing a rail line. The land is owned by the New York State Department of Transportation, and has been leased for 99 years to Harlem River Yard Ventures, which is owned in turn by real estate developer Galesi Group. Yet there has been no development on the land since it’s held the lease—the only thing that’s happened, Johnson said, is that the Bronx residents can’t access their waterfront.
Despite claims that the area is non-residential and thus wouldn’t disturb the community or add to the air quality problems, Johnson said there are 400 housing units nearby, and that the whole area has been rezoned as a mixed-use area so that residents can live and work in the same spaces.
The biggest problem with the FreshDirect move, Johnson said, is that none of the promises the company had to make to the city are binding. And while officials might talk tough about recouping subsidies if the corporation doesn’t come through, Michael Powell pressed the president of the public Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation as to whether she’d ever done so before. The answer was no.
New York City residents, like people around the country, continue to struggle with a rough economy, stagnant wages and rising cost of living. Do they really need to hand out millions in deals to corporations that, despite a shiny quasi-progressive reputation, are just perpetuating a race to the bottom on wages, exploiting workers and relying on corporate welfare to rake in the profits?
Mychal Johnson and Bronx residents think not. “Enough is enough, that’s why we’re standing up.”
Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.

Have you seen this yet?! What you may not know about FreshDirect

What You May Not Know About Fresh Direct from Olivia Smith on Vimeo.
Controversy is growing over Fresh Direct’s planned move to the Bronx. The online grocery store received almost $130 million in tax credits and cash incentives from New York state to relocate. But lost in all this is what you may not know about Fresh Direct and its impact on the environment. Olivia Smith reports.

Mychal’s NYMTC Testimony


Mychal Johnson at the Harlem River Rail Yards


Mychal Johnson also testified at today’s hearing. Thank you for a job well done! 

New York Metropolitan Transit Council
March 1, 2012
Statement of Arthur Mychal Johnson

My name is Arthur Mychal Johnson.  I am a resident and homeowner in the South Bronx, and I am a member of Community Board 1 and the Economic Development and Land Use Subcommittee.

I have come here today to identify a very serious problem we have with one of New York State Department of Transportation’s properties.  The property, owned by the State of New York under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, is a 94 acre waterfront lot in the South Bronx known as Harlem River Yards.  The property was leased for 99 years in 1991 to a private developer, Harlem River Rail Ventures, Inc. (having an office c/o the Galesi Group, Building 6, East Road, Rotterdam, New York, 12306), for the purpose of increasing utilization of rail freight services and reducing truck traffic congestion.

One Final Environmental Impact Statement was approved, purporting to cover all possible developments on the land over the full 99 year period.

Over the last 21 years, Harlem River Rail Ventures has failed to develop the intermodal rail terminal, which was the centerpiece of the policy behind the Department of Transportation’s lease of the land.  During that same 21 years, however, the community has been forced to endure severe health hazards as a result of poor air quality caused by uses of the Harlem River Yards.

In the South Bronx, we have an asthma epidemic.  Asthma hospitalizations are five times the national average; asthma deaths are three times the national average; and it is estimated that 1 in every 5 children in the South Bronx has asthma.

Harlem River Yards currently holds a FedEx hub making over 1,400 daily truck trips through the neighborhood, the New York Post printing and distribution center, and a 5000 ton per day waste transfer station, one of four waste transfer stations located within a 1/8 mile radius.  And, Fresh Direct has just received more than $100 million in public subsidies to relocate to the Harlem River Yards, adding upwards of 2,000 daily vehicle trips through the neighborhood.

The cumulative effect of such facilities is staggering.

The industrial and heavy manufacturing uses on Harlem River Yards are also inconsistent with the surrounding area, which has been repeatedly rezoned over the last 21 years to foster residential and commercial development, explore community access to the waterfront, which Harlem River Yards blocks, and to turn the area into a “Gateway to the Bronx”.

In 1997, a five-block area adjacent to the Harlem River Yards was rezoned as a mixed use district. The new zoning was a catalyst for strengthening the area’s emerging antique businesses and for revitalizing the residential character of this historically mixed use neighborhood.  As a result of the rezoning, approximately 42 rowhouses were rehabilitated, 36 new residential units were created or reactivated on upper floors of buildings, 50 lofts in a former piano factory were converted, and new ground floor retail and exhibit spaces were opened.

Then in 2005, building on the success of the 1997 rezoning, New York City Council rezoned a further eleven blocks surrounding the area for mixed use, this time including a focus on improved waterfront access.

The New York City Department of City Planning began examining options for waterfront access for residents cut off from the waterfront because of Harlem River Yards, and included the area in the agency’s Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan.  In response to the rezoning, a new 419-unit residential development adjacent to the Harlem River Yards was built in 2010 and is now occupied.

The current usage of Harlem River Yards is no longer compatible with the change in the area’s residential composition.  Severe risks exist for even higher asthma rates and other related health conditions.

Therefore, I request that the Department of Transportation place a moratorium on all new development at Harlem River Yards, including with respect to Fresh Direct’s proposed development, and conduct a thorough review of the current uses of the land, as well as the cumulative effects of such uses on the residents of the South Bronx, taking full account of the socio-economic makeup of the neighborhood and the disproportionate impact on the poorest congressional district in the country.

…with love for our hood in truth always…