While Mayor Eric Adams likes to fashion himself as the working-class Mayor, the rank-and-file of one of the city’s biggest energy providers say the city is crossing the picket line.
Workers at the Greenpoint-based United Metro Energy Corporation, took to City Hall to rally against billionaire owner John Catsimatidis as part of an ongoing strike that has been going on for over a year. UMEC is one of the largest energy suppliers in the city and last year had contracts with city agencies totaling $23 million.
The strike began on April 19 of last year after contract negotiations stalled. Since then, United Metro Energy Corporation has “permanently replaced” eight of the striking workers, including Strike Captain Andre Soleyn.
The union representing UMEC workers, Teamsters Local 553, has filed suit for illegal termination with the National Labor Review Board. If the NLRB finds that the workers were illegally fired they would have to be reinstated per the agency’s rules.
“This is a union town!” Demos Demopulos, the head of Teamsters Local 553, said to a roar of cheering union members. “These are essential immigrant workers who risked their health to get the city through the pandemic. Now they need our City and Mayor Adams should stand with them, not their billionaire owner. So we’re here to ask Mayor Adams to honor our picket line.”
Striking workers said they were paid $26.78, which is $10 less than the industry average. When replacement workers were hired, they had a starting wage between $30 and $32.
In a previous interview with The Greenpoint Star, John Castimitidis claimed that the union’s figures were an “unfair extrapolation” and represented “apprentice-level wages.” Pay stubs reviewed by the Greenpoint Star showed that terminal operators, a licensed position that is not an apprentice level job, were paid $26.78 per hour.
“We’re going to dig into the contract that is providing funding to John Catsimatidis as he turns his back on working people. Via oversight hearings, potentially through legislation, and definitely through robust advocacy, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to make sure that working people are treated with respect and dignity,” Councilman Lincoln Restler said in an interview.
“We need to start putting pressure on our own city government and hit UMEC in its pocket,” Restler said. “If John Catsimatidisis going to continue to fail to provide decent pay and benefits to working people, then we can’t afford as a city to pay him.”
The current contract, worth $55 million, expires in 2025 and was started in June 2021 under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Mayor Adams believes workers have the right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. This contract has been in place for almost a year, and is in compliance with all city procurement rules,” a spokesperson for the Mayor said.