The Democratic Representative ditched the highly anticipated event to help local Teamsters union members demand a $1/hour pay raise.
As the United States watched Joe Biden and Kamala Harris be sworn in on January 20 as President and Vice President, respectively, House Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had other plans. She was at Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, striking with local Teamsters union members over pay hikes. The Teamsters are the country's largest and most diverse union, established in 1903 as a merger of two leading team driver associations. The strike when management offered drivers only 32 cents/hour as a raise on pay, after the union had demanded a $1/hour raise, Teen Vogue reports.
Ocasio-Cortez appeared at the site of the strike wearing Timberland boots, an icon of New York City, and bearing Cuban-style espresso and hand-warmers for union members. Journalist Claudia Irizarry Aponte captured her arrival and posted photographs to Twitter, where she also uploaded a video of the Representative giving a speech on a bullhorn. She invited others to "pull up" to the strike in support of the union. The Teamsters are largely responsible for much of the fresh fruit delivered throughout the city on a regular basis. The strike was organized "after negotiations broke down when management refused to budge from a stingy offer for workers who kept New Yorkers fed through the pandemic," the union affirmed in a January 16 statement.
During her speech, Ocasio-Cortez rallied to make things right for the union workers. She declared, "What we’re doing here today is taking the upside down and making it right side up." Unfortunately, several members of the union were arrested at the picket. The New York Police Department had heavily policed the area to "keep the strike in check." Teamsters Local 2020 president Daniel Kane, Jr., shared in a statement, "It is outrageous that after being called essential heroes for months, several of our members were arrested while peacefully protesting for a raise today. These are the essential workers who went to work every day through the worst of the pandemic to feed New York. All they are asking for is a dollar-an-hour raise so they can feed their families, too."
The ongoing pandemic has been especially tough on the union workers: six workers have died of Coronavirus, and hundreds more are believed to have been infected. Although the management of Hunts Point Produce Market claimed to have kept their drivers "working and on payroll with full health benefits," many believe this is simply not enough. "It’s embarrassing that a corporation enjoying pandemic profits, millions in [Paycheck Protection Program] loans, and more in tax giveaways is fighting a $1 raise for essential workers who‘ve risked their lives all year to feed us. It’s time we stand up for essential workers everywhere. Thank you, Teamsters."
While it is still unclear if the strike will have an impact on the management's decisions about the raise, the Teamsters union has urged folks to join them at the picket line in whatever capacity they can. They posted on Twitter, "Please join us on the picket line at 772 Edgewater Road, Bronx, NY. We’re out here 24/7."
BREAKING: 21 train cars of merchandise turned back at Hunts Point Market strike line.— Teamsters JC 16 (@TeamstersJC16) January 21, 2021
“The locomotive engineer said, ‘we’re @Teamsters too,’ turned the freight car around, and headed back to Ohio.”
UNION SOLIDARITY ✊🏿✊🏽✊🏻 #1u #HuntsPointStrike pic.twitter.com/b1zqhT3ARU