Teamsters Strike Billionaire Catsimatidis
Workforce paid 50% of what they should while NYC billionaire pockets rest
Since April 19th, essential workers at United Metro Energy have been on strike. These workers provide gasoline, diesel, and heating oil to New York. Throughout the pandemic they continued to work even as New York was at the epicenter of the outbreak, but now have gone on strike over low wages and the company’s refusal to negotiate with their union.
The workers at United Metro Energy went on strike because they are being paid much less than workers at other New York City oil companies and also receive poor medical and retirement benefits. They report that their wages are between 20% and 50% less than the average in the area. The two dozen workers joined the union in February of 2019, but billionaire owner John Catsimatidis has refused to work with the union on a first contract. With no deal in sight, the workers decided to strike.
"My hourly wage is half what other companies pay for the same job in New York," said John Thompson, a service technician at United Metro Energy. "We took care of New York through the pandemic, but we need to be able to take care of our families too."
United Metro Energy provides heating oil to some big New York City institutions including to New York City schools, hospitals and the MTA. They are members of Teamsters Local 553 and work in Greenpoint Brooklyn. Even as New York City hospitals became overrun with COVID patients, workers from United Metro Energy continued to deliver and continued to make the company money, while some workers were being paid just $16.63 an hour. This is barely over New York City’s $15 minimum wage and significantly less than the $36.96 an hour standard wage for fuel terminal operators in New York City.
On Tuesday, striking workers were joined by fellow Teamsters members in rallying outside of Catsimatidis’ swanky offices in Midtown Manhattan. The billionaire owner also owns the supermarket chain Gristedes and 77 WABC, a conservative talk radio station in New York City, through his company Red Apple Group. Catsimatidis is estimated to be worth $2.8 billion and ran as a Republican for Mayor in 2013. Since then he has been the main funder of the Manhattan Republican Party and donated more than $250,000 to Trump during the 2020 election.
"We were essential enough to report to work through the pandemic, but not essential enough for a raise and better health and retirement benefits," said Andre Soleyn, a Terminal Operator at United Metro Energy. "We are on strike for a better future for our families."
The workers and the union claim that in retaliation for going on strike, the company has begun firing workers, telling them they are being permanently replaced. So far three of the 24 employees have received such letters.
"I'm a single father and I'm on strike because I need to be able to provide for my two children," said Ramesh Hardowar, a service technician at United Metro Energy. "This is dangerous work and we need good health care and a decent retirement for our families."