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Billionaire puzzled over strike by underpaid oil workers
Illustration photo by The Daily Beast / Photos via Getty Since mid-April, the United Metro Energy facility in Brooklyn has had a squadron of oil workers stationed outside – alternating so the men are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – on strike for better pay and benefits company owner: grocery billionaire, two-time mayoral candidate, and right-wing shock jock John Catsimatidis. Workers, a coalition of mechanics, terminal operators and service technicians, chose to go on strike on April 19, after years of delayed negotiations on a union contract, which they voted to form in 2018. “We are all over there 24/7, ”said Assaf John, who has worked as a service technician at the company for 12 years. years. “I’m here until 3 pm, then we have guys coming in at 3 pm, and some who are there overnight until morning.” Catsimatidis told the Daily Beast by phone that the picketing was a first for him. “All I can say is that I’ve been a New Yorker for 70 years, and in 51 years in business I’ve never had a strike before, and contrary to what you hear, we don’t. have never, never refused to sit down ”. he said. “I am always available.” But the executive and frequent political donor, whose fortune hovers around $ 2.8 billion, according to Forbes, has been nervous about labor demands in the past. (Neither United Metro Energy nor its parent company, Red Apple Group, immediately responded to requests for comment.) In 2015, the CEO of Gristedes gave up an opportunity to buy the New York Daily News, largely because of the newspaper’s pension plans. . Two years earlier, he was ordered by court to pay more than $ 8 million in legal fees and back wages to Gristedes workers who sued him for unpaid overtime, according to reports in the News. At the hearing, Catsimatidis reportedly showed up more than two hours late with the supermarket billionaire who wants to buy ‘The Daily News’ On Wednesday union representatives from Teamsters Local 553 will meet with United Metro for another round of negotiations. Due to the pandemic, negotiations have taken place on Zoom over the past year and Catsimatidis has attended many of them, with local executive director Demos Demopoulos telling the Daily Beast that a quick resolution was unlikely. At the end of last month, United Metro filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Around the same time, some 150 union members attended a protest rally. “They have been on strike for 15 days now,” Demopoulos said. “We hope we’ve made progress, but one of the barriers is that the company refuses to pay for industry standards.” The strikers earn up to 50 percent less than their peers in the union, and haven’t. received a raise in three years, Demopoulos said. Andre Soleyn, a fuel terminal operator who spent five years at the company, said he was making $ 20.50 an hour, while the industry standard for his position hovered between $ 36 and $ 38 time. Some of his colleagues earned just over $ 15, the state’s minimum wage. Unlike employees of some other retail petroleum companies, workers at United Metro do not have a pension plan. John told the Daily Beast that he can rarely find doctors who accept their health and dental insurance. “They usually say, ‘Oh, we don’t know about this insurance,’” he said. “I don’t know how we’re supposed to survive – it’s all on the upswing and we’re not getting the benefits.” On the first day of the strike Soleyn, who had played an important role in the union organizing effort, was informed by letter that he had been “permanently replaced”. Two other workers received similar letters, Demopoulos said. The letter said workers can only return if their replacements leave more than a year after the strike has ended. Catsimatidis admits he hired replacement workers – also known as scabs – but claimed that did not mean long-serving employees had been laid off, despite what their letters said. “The word ‘permanent replacement’ is fictitious,” he said. “When you replace people – you still have to run your business – which usually happens 99.9% of the time, once that’s done, all the seniors go back to work.” Catsimatidis holds a prominent place in New York business circles, as CEO of Manhattan-based Gristedes, alongside positions at various other companies, including United Metro’s parent company, Red Apple Group. In 2009 and 2013, he ran as a Republican candidate for New York City mayor on some pretty idiosyncratic platforms. A political ad attacking his main opponent from 2013, Joe Lhota, boasts that Catsimatidis “loves cats, dogs and all animals”, while Lhota “has no heart”. In 2019, he bought the conservative radio station WABC, which is home to a slew of right-wing figures like Curtis Sliwa and syndications of shows from Brian Kilmeade, Mark Levin and Ben Shapiro. For years, Catsimatidis has had his own show on the station called The Cats Roundtable, airing interviews with guests like Rudy Giuliani, and as a press release puts it, “John’s unique take on New York news. ” His take on the strike was mostly confusion. “I don’t know why there is a problem this time,” he said over the phone. “There are theories, yes, but I’m not legally able to talk about them.” For more, check out The Daily Beast. Do you have any advice? Send it to The Daily Beast here Get our best stories delivered to your inbox every day. Register now! Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside delves deeper into the stories that matter to you. Learn more.