Deadline for strike at Hunts Point Market postponed until Sunday

BRONX (WABC) -- Workers at the nation's largest wholesale produce market have agreed to hold off on a strike while a federal mediator gets involved with contract talks.

Members of Teamsters Local 202 agreed Thursday to put off any action at the Hunts Point Market until Sunday. Talks are continuing.

The original deadline was Friday.

The workers who handle fruits and vegetables at the produce market in the South Bronx have voted to authorize a strike as the deadline for a new contract gets closer.

The members of Teamsters Local 202 voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike on Tuesday, and work could stop at the market as soon as Friday morning.

The union says the main issues of contention are the amounts of wage increases and employees' health care costs.

Workers, who make an average of $44,000 a year, are asking for a raise that works out to an extra $25 a week. Management has countered with an increase of $16 a week. Contributions to health insurance are another sticking point.

"These businesses have never done better, but they are refusing to pay a fair wage to the people who do the work," Teamsters Local 202 President Daniel Kane, Jr., said. "We live in this city and just like everyone else our rent keeps going up, our cost of living keeps going up, and our wages just aren't keeping up. These workers feed New York, they should be able to put food on the table too."

The 1 million-square-foot complex processes virtually all of the vegetables and fruit sold in markets and used in restaurants within a 50-mile radius. It's also one of the largest employers in the Bronx.

Union officials say negotiations broke down after management walked away from the table with a final offer of raises that did not keep up with the rising cost of living. They also say owners want them to turn over part of their paycheck for health insurance and preserve a system that pays some workers less than others doing the same job.

Robert Leonard, spokesman for the Hunts Point Produce Market, said that "Discussions are ongoing and we are confident that all parties can come to a resolution on this matter to avoid a work stoppage. However, in the unfortunate event of a strike, contingency measures are in place to ensure the market remains open to continue providing fresh produce to the communities we serve."

The Hunts Point Teamsters have not gone on strike in nearly three decades.

"We would like nothing better than to be at work, being paid a fair wage," Kane said. "We reached this point because the owners are asking more of these workers than they can give."

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