G. Esposito & Sons Pork Store to Close

Over a Century Old Institution Closing Doors on April 10

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

When George Esposito was eight-years-old, his first job at his Grandfather’s store was selling garlic by the pound for 25 cents. 55 years later, he’s now ready to close shop.

The over a century old and four generation family-owned G. Esposito & Sons Pork Store, located on Court Street in Carroll Gardens, will be closing its doors on April 10.

In an interview with the Brooklyn Star, Esposito said that he would have liked to keep the store open for the decades long customers who have enjoyed the store but buyers were intimidated.

“Lots of people were interested [in buying the business] but when they see what we do here – it scared them away. We make everything. You know this isn’t a Trader Joes,” he said. “This is a homemade family business that makes everything from scratch.”

Esposito’s & Sons Pork Store is known for a lot more than just their pork: they serve hot and cold sandwiches, are well-known for their sausage and rice balls, and offer everything from cavatelli to potato salad.

The store was originally founded by Esposito’s grandfather, Giovanni Esposito. Originally from Naples, Giovanni immigrated to the United States in 1922 and opened up shop on Columbia and Union Street the same year. The store moved over to the Court Street location in 1977 when the original location’s nabe started to get more dangerous, said Esposito.

Back then the menu was different: selling traditional Italian foods like lamb heads and calf lungs. Around the mid to late 80s is when the store started to sell more Italian-American dishes and added sandwiches to their menus, as the nabe changed.

G. Esposito & Sons Pork Store will close on April 10

“I’ll never eat sausage again anywhere. That’s a fact. I bought a shrink wrap machine just for myself,” Esposito said.

Since the announcement of the store’s closing, Esposito said he has been inundated with orders. For the first time in the store’s history they are running low on inventory.

“I have like 30 trays ordered. Whole trays that people are going to freeze. I don’t know if you like eggplant parmesan, but there’s okay and there’s bad and there’s great. Our’s is outstanding,” said Esposito.

“I was heartbroken,” Brian Geltner, a 20 year customer of G. Esposito & Sons Pork Store said in an interview while munching on an Italian combo.

Some of his favorite things to order over the years have been the sausage parm, the italian combo and the eggplant parm – “but it’s all good,” he said.

“Whenever I buy sausages here to make tomato sauce, the sauce always comes out better than any other place,” Geltner said. “I don’t know why, but I go out of my way to come here before work.”

BP Appoints Rev. Kimberly Council as Deputy

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

Last week Brooklyn Beep Antonio Reynoso appointed Reverend Kimberly Council as Deputy Borough President.

The Deputy will serve as a surrogate for the Borough President as well as leading faith-based work for the administration, according to a Friday announcement.

Prior to her appointment she served as Assistant Pastor of Greater Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Crown Heights since 2021.

“Rev. Council’s history of specialized community service and faith-based work in Brooklyn will bring the work our administration has been dedicated to for the past year to the next level,” Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso said in a statement. “Our borough and this city are facing serious challenges right now – issues like undignified and unaffordable housing, food insecurity, and the looming fear of violence and loss. For many years, Kim has worked alongside our communities to address these inequities and invoke change that people can feel in their everyday lives.

The former Sunday School teacher has worked on issues such as building affordable housing, fighting hunger through food pantries and violence prevention programs as the Executive Director of the Berean Community Center in Crown Heights.

She has also served as the President of the East Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation and sits on the Executive Board of Women of Faith Advocating Change – a group of female pastors, elected officials and community service providers. In 2019, she was appointed to the HBCU International Task Force

“I’ve dedicated my career to the communities and people of Brooklyn, focusing on finding ways to better lives and strengthen opportunities for all. Being appointed Deputy Borough President gives me the opportunity to carry this work out at a larger, borough-wide level alongside a colleague I’ve long respected,” Reverend Kim Council said in a statement. “Agreeing with Borough President Reynoso’s approach, policy priorities, and general strategy to reach the strongest, most sustainable future for all Brooklynites, I look forward to building that vision for the millions of people who call this beautiful borough home.”

The appointment will be effective starting on April 17, 2023.

DOT Hosts Redesign Workshop for North BK Streets

Grand Street, Morgan Ave. and Metropolitan Ave. Discussed

By Iryna Shkurhan

[email protected]

With stickers, markers and post-its in hand, North Brooklyn residents set out to redesign some of the most widely used, and problematic, corridors in their neighborhood.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) hosted the revisioning event on Thursday evening at the Swinging Sixties Senior Center on Ainslie Street. With over a hundred community members in attendance, no seat was left empty. The strong turnout and vocal attendees reflected the desire for a long awaited redesign that prioritizes safety and accessibility in the community.

The conversation centered around three main roadways — Grand Street, Metropolitan Avenue and Morgan Avenue — which are heavily utilized by pedestrians, cars, bus commuters, bicyclists and trucks on a daily basis. The event directly showed that accommodating everyone’s interests is tricky, with several possible solutions to consider.

A presentation by Lauren Rennée, a DOT project manager, outlined the changes implemented at these three locations over the past decade to address usability, especially for the growing number of cyclists. A “toolbox” of possibilities to address the issues that remain included one-way car conversion, removing a lane of parking, reducing travel lanes and sheltering bike lanes with either parking or jersey barriers.

The area that encompasses Williamsburg and Greenpoint ranks in the top-third of high-crash corridors in Brooklyn, according to the DOT. On Grand Street, 22 people were seriously injured between 2016 and 2020. Since 2016, there have also been seven fatalities. The crash rates were only slightly lower on Metropolitan Ave and Morgan Ave.

“There are a lot of challenges with the current design,” said Jennifer Gutiérrez, Council Member of District 34 representing Bushwick and Williamsburg, in her opening remarks. “We’re also here because there have been very real collisions and deaths along these corridors. Our goal before anything is to prevent all of those deaths.”

The central complaint of the evening was that the majority of the time, the bike lanes in all three locations were unusable due to parked cars or trucks blocking them. With poor access and visibility, bicyclists are forced to either disturb pedestrians on the sidewalks or put themselves at risk by riding into car designated lanes. But some business owners countered that bike lanes pose curb access challenges for deliveries and limited parking for visitors.

“I bike on Grand St and it’s very problematic, depending on which way you’re going,” said Francesca Romana Caputo, a Williamsburg resident. “There is always something parked on the bike lane.”

Attendees were seperated into a dozen breakout groups where they spent 45 minutes discussing possibilities for solutions with a map of the area open between them. Using color coded stickers, they marked problematic areas with a corresponding note.

Each group had a DOT representative to guide the conversation, offer their expertise while another representative diligently took notes of popular solutions. It was suggested 15 minutes of discussion is allotted to each corridor, but Metropolitan Ave received the most attention, and complaints.

“We want to design streets that enforce themselves,” said Preston Johnson, a DOT Project Manager who led the discussion in one of the groups.

Metropolitan Ave’s current design bans parking on the peak direction side during rush hour west of the Metropolitan Ave Bridge. And over 1,700 vehicles cross that bridge during the morning rush, according to DOT data. And east of the bridge, the wider section of the road is separated by a median with just a standard bike lane in place.

Cyclists are growing at a fast rate in the city and are a central population that will be considered in the redesign. According to DOT data, 1.8 million Citi bike trips originated in Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 in 2022, not including personal bikes. It is also the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation.

A popular solution was to implement protected bike lanes that provide a safer dedicated space for cyclists. According to the DOT it is the “most appropriate treatment in areas with commercial and industrial activity.” Pedestrian injuries decreased by 21 percent and motor vehicle occupant injuries went down by 15 percent when protected bike lanes were introduced.

A Department of Transportation representative facilitated the discussion in each group and answered logistical questions that arose.

Grand St, which connects western Queens and Bushwick to Brooklyn and Manhattan via bridges and the BQE, generates high truck volumes and loading demand by serving commercial and industrial areas. Much progress has been made since 2008, when travel lanes had no separation or designation for bike riders. The following year, standard bike lanes were added and in 2018 they became parking protected curbside bike lanes. Last year, jersey barrier protection was also added.

Some bus riders complained that buses are forced to operate at slower speeds due to traffic, which leads to longer commute times for riders. They also complained that there is no enforcement of people illegally parking on bike lanes or blocking bus stops and lanes.

High truck rates stem from North Brooklyn being a hub for Industrial Business Zones. On Grand St, a lack of designated loading zones for trucks is a strong contributor to blocked bike lanes.

Many attendees proposed converting one or more of the three corridors into one-way roads to create more space for bike lanes and reduce congestion created by cars and trucks. Some attendees worried that by redesigning a large street as a one-way, smaller side streets that are currently favorable to biking will receive an influx of truck traffic.

Morgan Ave is one of the few north-south streets in Williamsburg that intersects Grand St and Metropolitan Ave. While a curbside bike lane was installed from Grand St to Grattan St in 2018, there is currently a bike network gap north of Grand St to Meeker Ave, Queens via the Kosciuszko and Pulaski Bridges.

Physically narrower roadways, one example of self-enforcing design, tend to discourage speeding that is present in wider roadways. They will also shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, a significant challenge for seniors.

Seniors make up less than 15 percent of the city’s population but over 45 percent of pedestrian fatalities. And 90 percent of senior and non-senior adult injuries occur at intersections. A proposed solution with seniors in mind is to include a halfway pedestrian island to split up intersection crossing into two parts.

”The other thing that no one has mentioned during this presentation is the pollution,” said Caputo, who lives directly on Grand St. She said that every morning a thick layer of black residue accumulates on the windowsill in her bedroom. “It’s insane. This is what we’re breathing everyday.”

The DOT plans to unveil their redesign proposal, created with resident suggestions in mind, at an upcoming Community Board 1 meeting.

Interview with New Brooklyn Rep for Education Panel

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

Jessamyn Lee is the newest Brooklyn Representative for the Panel for Education Policy – the citywide board that replaced the formal Board of Education.

Lee has served as a public school English Second Language teacher for over eight years, the Parent Teachers Association Board for her children’s schools and the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory council. She also served as District 14 President Council President – a group of PTA presidents representing North Brooklyn.

“When I became a public school parent, I wanted to contribute to my school communities, and then eventually, the larger community in any way that I could, because I feel like I have a couple of different lenses on things because I do have this sort of institutional knowledge from my background working for the Department of Education,” Jessamyn said in a recent phone interview. 

When asked about her primary focuses, Lee said that stopping colocation of charter schools was among her top interests. 

“I feel like what we’re seeing in New York City, and what we’re seeing really nationally is a momentary drop in public school enrollment. And my main priority is looking at building utilization, which is tied to enrollment numbers to ensure that our public schools remain public schools.”

Lee told the Brooklyn Star that one policy she would like to see changed is that soft spaces – meaning Speech pathology, counseling and other services – would be included in building utilization stats. The figure is often used to make the case for potential co-locations of charters.

Lee said that the lack of soft spaces being included in building utilization rates can alter the numbers. She highlighted how her own son is in a specialized program for Autistic students and although it only has around 19 students, a general education class could hold upwards of 30. Due to the disparity, Lee said that the current models don’t account for that disparity and could incorrectly label a classroom as being underutilized 

“When we’re talking about English language learners and special education students, in particular, the preservation of those soft spaces are necessary for the implementation of their mandated services and supports.”

In her interview with the Brooklyn Star, Lee also highly criticized the Mayor’s education cuts, which have been estimated by the Comptroller’s office to total $469 million. 

“I obviously, stringently and stridently, oppose the Adams administration’s cuts to the DOE’s budget. I find them indefensible.”

Lee encouraged readers to learn more about their local Community Education Councils in order to get more involved.

“A lot of what I’ve learned over the years is that what it takes for the average person or the typical person to kind of exercise some political power in this city is sort of directly tied to their ability and willingness to sit through long meetings that cover a lot of dry material,” she said. 

“But the parents are empowered and they can and should reach out to their city council members and their state assembly members to advocate for our public schools.”

Greenpoint Assembly District on chopping block

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

Greenpoint residents are organizing against new proposed lines for their assembly district, claiming that the lines are politically charged.

Assembly District 50, the current district represented by Emily Gallagher covers Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The proposed draft lines submitted by the Independent Redistricting Committee would currently split the district in half, along McGuinness Boulevard with the right half of the district being absorbed into Western Queens-based Assembly District 38, which is  currently represented by Juan Ardila. 

The current maps boundaries are a result of the earlier redistricting, which after court challenges only was set to be used for the last election. The maps that are currently being considered are to replace the 2023-2024 maps. 

“The bifurcation of McGuinness Boulevard under the current redistricting plan will serve to separate the longstanding Greenpoint Polish Community, diminishing its heritage, unique character, heart and spirit, like the BQE did to our Williamsburg neighborhood,” a letter from a group of local activists opposing the proposed lines obtained by the Greenpoint Star. “The split of AD50 along McGuinness Boulevard and lower along Driggs Avenue will also divide a community that has successfully faced environmental challenges threatening our neighborhood. This includes the designation of two federal superfund sites, the building of at least three power plants, and flood resiliency planning.”

Kevin LaCherra, a local Greenpoint activist, told the Greenpoint Star that the lines’ potential impact are dire.

“This is such a critical time not just for our city, but for this community – in terms of climate, housing, resources and planning. In the midst of that the state of New York wants to cut us in half. Divide our power, divide our voice.”

In reference to the unique challenges Eastern Greenpoint faces, LaCherra said that the plan was especially troublesome.

“These are some of our most vulnerable areas of the community that really need the expertise of elected officials that have and will represent the majority of Greenpoint,” he continued. “And that is not the case here.”

Karen Blatt, the co-executive director at the Independent Redistricting Commission, did not answer any questions regarding the decision making behind the change but encouraged people to participate in public hearings about the subject.

“The map that was released on December 1st is just a draft and the commissioners will redraw the lines in March, based on the testimony at our public hearings and the submissions they read on our website. Everyone is encouraged to participate and inform the commissioners how the lines affect them and their community,” Blatt wrote in an email. 

Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher urged constituents to testify at the upcoming meeting.

“Greenpoint and Williamsburg are sister communities and have never been separated politically. They share a history, a heritage and many common challenges. The new draft lines proposed by the Independent Redistricting Committee reminds me of the carelessness of Robert Moses driving the BQE through the heart of our residential neighborhoods,” Gallagher said in a statement. “Eastern Greenpoint belongs with Greenpoint and Williamsburg—not in a mostly Queens district.” 

The upcoming public hearing for the proposed Greenpoint district, and Brooklyn at-large, will be hosted both online and in-person at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 15 at Medgar Evers College. 

End of Year Legislation Signed by Hochul

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

As the year came to a close, Governor Kathy Hochul had a busy two weeks. She became the first woman to be sworn into a full term as governor of New York on Jan. 1, and in the month prior, she signed numerous pending state legislation into law. 

Notably, she signed a bill that prohibits discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status and immigration status is illegal in New York.

This law will expand the protections from the NYS Division of Human Rights, which currently investigates cases in which individuals have been potentially discriminated against due to their immigration status.

State Senator John Liu and State Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz came together with activists on Dec. 29 in front of Flushing Library to applaud the signing of this bill (S6586A/A6328A).

​​“We appreciate Governor Hochul for signing this legislation in recognition that our state is made greater by the vast contributions of talented and aspiring people from everywhere in the world who adopt New York as their new home,” Liu said in a statement. “Unfortunately, even as they pursue the American Dream, they are stymied by obsolete federal laws and byzantine bureaucracies that prolong their path to citizenship and subject them to bias and discrimination. This bill will help provide equal opportunity in employment, housing, and other needs that all New Yorkers should have access to.”

The first state program in the nation allowing individuals to be reimbursed for the costs of kidney and liver donations came from the governor’s office this week. 

The legislation (S.1594/A.146A) amends the public health, tax and social services laws to enact the “New York State Living Donor Support Act,” which will establish a program to cover the extra costs that come with organ donation for New York residents who donate to a fellow New Yorker. The law comes in an effort to eliminate financial barriers to organ donation and, as a result, reduce wait times for organ transplants and address the organ shortage in New York. 

As of publication, there are over 8,000 people on transplant wait lists, most of whom are awaiting a kidney, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

A legislative package (S.3897/A.8936-A) supporting pedestrians, bikers and transit riders included increased funding for “Complete Street” projects. 

A Complete Street is a roadway designed for all roadway users — not just drivers.

This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit riders as well as motorists. It also makes an effort to focus on children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

With this legislation, the state’s contribution to the non-federally funded portion of the project increases to 87.5 percent. 

New legislation (S.3959-B/A.7822-C) will require the non-voting transit dependent representative be moved into a voting position on transportation authorities’ boards. In short, this new legislation will provide a vote — and a voice — to riders who permanently rely on transit services including bikeshares, buses and paratransit.

To protect existing labor laws on behalf of workers, Hochul signed legislation (S.5994C/A.1338C) that establishes a registration system for contractors and subcontractors engaged in public work and covered private projects. This law will require contractors and subcontractors to provide a series of disclosures about their businesses every two years with the Department of Labor. 

The department will determine whether a contractor or subcontractor is fit to registers based on previous labor law and workers compensation law violations, including prevailing wage requirements. This law will create a publicly available database.

Furthermore, notable previously signed laws that are set to go into effect in 2023 include the establishment of a task force and annual report to examine social media and violent extremism. 

The Electric Vehicle Rights Act, which prevents a homeowners association from adopting or enforcing any rules or regulations that would effectively prohibit, or impose unreasonable limitations on the installation or use of an electric vehicle charging station, is set to go into effect on Jan. 21.

In this year, student-athletes will be able to receive endorsement compensation, and New York schools will be prohibited from taking away the scholarships or eligibility of any athlete making money from such endorsements.  

Freelancer protection bill vetoed by Governor

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

Governor Hochul vetoed legislation concerning freelancer work last week.

The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, sponsored by Brooklyn State Senator Andrew Gounardes, would have created a right to a written contract from a hiring party for contracts over $250, creating a process for the Department of Labor to investigate complaints and the ability for the Attorney General to investigate patterns of non-payment, among other changes.

“Much of the language in this new section 191-d in the Labor Law is drawn from existing language in Article 6 that provides wage theft protections for traditional employees, creating parity between the two different types of laborers,” according to the bill’s memo. 

Citywide legislation on the issue was passed in 2017. Complaints are handled through the New York City Department of Consumer and Workplace Protections. More than $1.3 has been recovered in penalties or restitution from 2018 and 2019 complaints alone, according to the bill.

The bill argues that the enforcement mechanism at a citywide level isn’t strong enough as the New York City Department of Consumer and Workplace Protections, as they cannot compel hirers to pay, leaving freelance workers to take their cases to small claims court.

A 2019 study commissioned by the Freelancers Union, UpWork and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment found that over a third of New York City residents are freelance workers.

“It’s unfortunate that this holiday season will leave freelancers out in the cold, but that only strengthens my resolve to go back to Albany nex year and keep fighting to protect these workers,” Senator Gounardes said in a statement.

According to a report from the Independent Economy Council, 59% of freelance workers are owed $50,000 or more for their work.

“With 39% of the entire U.S. workforce freelancing this year and a total of $1.35 trillion in annual earnings to the U.S. economy from freelance contributions, we are saddened by the Governor’s calculation that there is not enough room in our budget to adequately protect the growing independent workforce in the state,” Executive Director of the Freelancers Union Rafael Espinal said in a statement. “We thank the legislature for passing this significant legislation and we will be no doubt back in January to make sure we get this done next session.”

“The National Writers Union and the tens of thousands of freelance writers, authors and media workers in NYS are extremely disappointed in the Governor’s veto. Freelance Isn’t Free simply requires a written contract and payment within 30 days of invoicing, which should be the bare minimum in worker protection,” Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union, said in a statement. “To veto a package of bills over a lack of funding for the Department of Labor at the last minute is disturbing, particularly when Freelance Isn’t Free, like the other bills in the package, passed both houses in a legislative session that ended over six months ago. This is especially concerning given that Governor Hochul was elected in November with the support of unions and workers.”

State Senator Andrew Gounardes sponsored the recent freelncer protection bill which was vetoed by the Governor.  (Credit: NY Senate Media Services)

Brooklyn pols’ voting rights reform bill signed

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

Voters will have more time to register to vote next year, thanks to Governor Hochul signing new legislation sponsored by Brooklyn electeds. 

Assemblymember Robert Carroll sponsored the voting reform legislation.
(Credit: Twitter). 

The new legislation, which takes effect on January 1, shortens the registration deadline from 25 days before an election to 10 days. While the state constitution stipulates that voters have 10 days to vote before elections, election law made the timeline longer by requiring voters to either be submitted 25 days before the election in person. If you wanted to mail in your registration, the previous law mandated that it be postmarked 25 days in advance and received by the board of elections within 20 days of the election. 

The new legislation was sponsored by Assemblymember Robert Carroll (D-Park Slope) and State Senator Brian Kavanagh (D-Greenpoint). (Kavanaugh will not represent Greenpoint in the upcoming term due to redistricting.)

“In recent years, we’ve taken many significant steps to change our laws and make elections more voter friendly. We know that many New Yorkers, with busy lives and many competing priorities, may choose to engage with the election process within the final weeks before an election. With the registration deadline set nearly a month before elections, new voters are routinely excluded from participating,” Kavanaugh (D-Greenpoint) said in a statement. 

The legislation builds on top of voting rights reform that has occurred in the past year. Earlier this month, Governor Hochul signed the “wrong church” legislation, also sponsored by Assemblymember Robert Carroll, which requires the counting of affidavit ballots if a voter showed up to the wrong polling location. 

Back in July, the Governor signed the John Lewis Voting Act of New York. The legislation made many changes to voting law including: requiring language assistance with areas that have enough population of minority language groups, establishing civil liability for voter intimidation and requiring preclearance of changes to voting by the Civil Rights Bureau under the attorney general’s office.

“New York State must ensure that New Yorkers don’t face unnecessary obstacles in exercising their right to vote and this legislation, which reduces the voter registration deadline from 25 to the constitutional minimum of 10 days before an election, is a good step,” Carroll said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and voting rights and election reform advocates in making New York State a true model when it comes to fair, transparent, and well administered elections.”

Greenpoint State Senator Brian Kavanagh sponsored the voting reform bill in the Senate which was signed by 
Gov. Hochul. (Credit: NY Senate Media Services)

John Catsimatidis-Owned Oil Company Refuses to Sign Union Contract at Greenpoint Refinery

John Catsimatidis-Owned Oil Company Refuses to Sign Union Contract at Greenpoint Refinery

Claudia Irizarry Aponte, The City

Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY

Left to right: Union rep Vic Castellano with Asaaf John and Andre Soleyn at Greenpoint’s United Metro Energy worker strike, April 29, 2021.
Union rep Vic Castellano, left, with Asaaf John, center, and Andre Soleyn at Greenpoint’s United Metro Energy worker strike, April 29, 2021. | Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

United Metro Energy, the Brooklyn-based oil company owned by radio host and former GOP mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, declined to sign a longstanding, industry-wide collective bargaining agreement that expired last Friday, Dec. 16.

The contract had represented only three truck drivers, who haul fuel from the Greenpoint refinery, as members of Teamsters Local 553 for decades. But additional United Metro workers, including about two dozen technicians and mechanics, have been on strike for union recognition since April 2021.

In an interview with THE CITY on Thursday, Catsimatidis said — as United Metro executives have in recent months — that the company was never bound by the agreement, a matter Local 553 is disputing with the federal National Labor Relations Board.

Overall, that contract spans some 800 workers in New York City and is negotiated by the New York State Energy Coalition (NYSEC), which deals with labor contracts with unions across the state on behalf of several energy corporations. 

United Metro’s refusal to sign the master agreement was largely seen by workers as an attempt to further thwart the efforts of striking workers at the expense of the facility’s three union members.

“That’s all part of the fight to undercut the union effort that we started, and he seems to be getting away with it,” said Andre Soleyn, a terminal operator and union leader on strike at the terminal since April 2021. “So he is definitely using that as a perch to come against us as a group to prevent us from getting what we deserve.”

The new contract that went into effect on Dec. 16 includes a $5.50-hour increase over the three-year life of the agreement — the “largest increase ever,” according to a memo sent to Local 553 members — and the addition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

Mayor Eric Adams meets with Greek American leaders at Gracie Mansion on Tuesday, February 15, 2022.
John Catsimatidis, right, attended a meeting Mayor Eric Adams held with Greek American leaders at Gracie Mansion, Feb. 15, 2022. | Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

“We are abiding by whatever terms everyone else is abiding by. And if they make an agreement with the rest of the industry, we will most likely abide by that, too,” Catsimatidis said.

“Somebody shows it to me, whatever agreement they abided by, with the other people, we will abide by it,” he added.

In response to Catsimatidis, Local 553 secretary-treasurer Demos Demopoulos said in a statement to THE CITY on Thursday: “I expect Mr. Catsimatidis to be a man of his word and that he will honor his commitment to abide by and sign the Industry Agreement when I present it to him.”

600 Days on Strike

Even as it honored the terms of past industry-wide agreements settled in 2017, United Metro Energy claimed — in a Sept. 20 letter from president John McConville to NYSEC CEO Rocco Lacertosa — that the company was not bound to the contract that expired on Dec. 16 in the first place, because it did not sign the contract.

United Metro, McConville wrote, “is not bound by the current Master Contract with Local 553. To the extent that any such agreement is in effect — which it is not — it will not renew after December 15, 2022.” 

Local 553 charged the company had “unilaterally canceled a valid collective bargaining agreement” in an unfair labor practice charge it filed against United Metro with the NLRB in October.

“For the employees that are covered under that contract, they have been paying all the wages, benefits and medical, vacation schedule — everything that’s covered under the master contract,” Demopoulos said last Wednesday. “So it’s ridiculous for them to claim now that they’ve never been covered under that contract, when for years, they’ve been more or less honoring that contract.”

Catsimatidis is the CEO of Red Apple Group, a conglomerate of energy, real estate, media and grocery companies, including Gristedes food markets, which have a longstanding collective bargaining agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500.

The dispute adds another chapter in a multi-year labor dispute at United Metro Energy, which distributes heating oil to New York City schools and hospitals and the MTA, as well as diesel fuel to gas stations. About two dozen of its Greenpoint refinery oil technicians, terminal operators and fleet mechanics are on a strike that has stretched for more than 600 days.

Those workers voted to join Teamsters Local 553 in 2019 and went on an indefinite strike in April 2021, more than two years after fruitless contract negotiations began.

United Metro workers earn hourly wages averaging $12 below the industry average, according to Local 553.

‘Always Welcome’

“Basically, they’ve just been dragging out negotiations,” union rep Vic Castellano told THE CITY last year. “And we wouldn’t take this action if they were negotiating the way they claim to be. Nothing should take over two years.”

In April, a year after the strike began, Local 553 called on Mayor Eric Adams to halt a $52 million contract with United Metro brokered by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, because of the dispute. The mayor’s office said it could not sever the deal because the company is in compliance with local regulations, the New York Post reported.

Catsimatidis told THE CITY that the workers “are always welcome to come back to work.”

“Check my record — in 50 years in labor, in New York City, I’ve been a CEO for 50 years, we’ve never had a strike. And the union just on a Monday morning, decided to put these people on strike,” he said.

United Metro responded by firing nine terminal operators at the onset of the strike in 2021 — union leader Andre Soleyn among them. The company was ordered by the NLRB to reinstate the nine employees in July of this year; those workers are separate from the truck drivers whose contract the company is disputing.

The company complied, and all but two of those workers remain on strike, taking other jobs to make ends meet while holding the line.

“There’s a certain resolve that the guys have, and that’s because we all have families that we need to take care of, and we want them to do better than we did,” Soleyn said.

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