Tuesday, July 9, 2013

FreshDirect & the Bronx: Make Your Voice Heard Today

South Bronx Unite is asking everyone who opposes the giveaway of valuable waterfront land to FreshDirect to come to the Community Board 1 offices, located at 3024 3rd Avenue at 5:30 today--Wednesday, July 10.  The focus of this meeting will be FreshDirect’s request to be granted a land use modification for the property.  Here is the website of South Bronx Unite, where one can find its positions and other information.

New York City, City Hall, Protest against FreshDirect, November 14, 2012

On November 14 of last year (2012), I happened to be in the vicinity of City Hall and took some photographs of a gathering of activists who were calling for the boycott of FreshDirect. Here we can see two people holding up a sign while standing on the steps leading up to the elegant Ionic portico of City Hall. Designed by the architectural team of Mangin and McComb, this classical gem was built in 1811 and stands--fittingly--as the oldest city hall in the United States that continues to function as a center for government.

The issue in regard to FreshDirect, the on-line grocer which delivers directly to residences or offices, is that it is moving its distribution center from Queens to a new site in the Bronx. However, Bronx residents and civic organizations were given no input into the process.  In essence, FreshDirect had worked out a sweetheart deal with Albany and the office of the Mayor of New York in which it will receive around $130 million in public money (through tax exemptions and through direct subsidies).

I think that the whole issue of urban governments subsidizing private, for-profit corporations ought to be reassessed, whether it be a food distribution center or a sports stadium. And in this case, when New York City desperately needs so many other things, why is it supporting what Sarah Jaffe remarks is “a grocery delivery service that is notorious for underpaying its workers, has faced multiple accusations of discrimination and has been accused of using all sorts of shady tactics to block its workers from joining a union?”

Besides subsidies that seem unfair, the closed process which led to them also lacked the transparency that we have come to expect in our democracy.  Nevertheless, the issues surrounding FreshDirect and New York City are hardly black-and-white.  For anyone interested in them, I would suggest the article by Sarah Jaffe, in the March 4, 2012 issue of AlterNet, “How FreshDirect Delivers Misery Along With Your Groceries--And How Workers and the Community are Fighting Back;” the article by Michael Powell in the February 20, 2012 issue of the New York Times, “In Bronx, FreshDirect and Land of Great Promises;” the article by Dennis Slatery in the June 3, 2013 issue of the New York Daily News, “Judge hands Fresh Direct a victory, paving way for grocer’s move to the South Bronx;” and the article by Patrick Wall in the November 14, 2012 issue of DNAinfo New York, “Gristedes Owner and Other Grocers Join Fight vs. FreshDirect's Subsidies.”

Meanwhile, here are a few more photos of some of the people who spoke out against FreshDirect on that chilly, November day last year.

New York City, City Hall, Protest against FreshDirect, Bettina Damiani, November 14, 2012
Bettina Damiani, of the advocacy group, Good Jobs New York, was certain that residents in the South Bronx, had they been consulted, would have rejected this sweetheart deal.  She remarked that “the future of economic development must be in rebuilding our city, rebuilding infrastructure after Hurricane Sandy” and not in subsidizing specific businesses.

New York City, City Hall, Protest against FreshDirect, Irene Prestigiacomo, November 14, 2012
Irene Prestigiacomo, a business owner from Willets Point, Queens, worried about the imbalance and unfairness of such subsidies and their effect on the local groceries and bodegas of the South Bronx. Seeing an issue of socio-economic injustice, she noted that “they victimize businesses in small neighborhoods like my own to the benefit of the well-connected.”

New York City, City Hall, Protest against FreshDirect, Letitia James, November 14, 2012
In a similar vein, Councilwoman Letitia James of Brooklyn stated, “I’m concerned that grocery stores all over the city are suffering,” and then added, “When you give one entity unfair advantage over others, there is something wrong with the equation.”

New York City, City Hall, Protest against FreshDirect, Mychal Johnson, November 14, 2012
Mychal Johnson is one of the major advocates for the South Bronx and a member of South Bronx Unite. He also was a  member of  Community Board 1, until Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. refused to reappoint him because of his active position against FreshDirect.

It was an e-mail from Mychal yesterday that alerted me to today's meeting at 3024 3rd. Avenue in the Bronx.  Mychal will be at the Community Board offices today at 5:30, simply in the capacity of a concerned citizen.  So will I, and I invite anyone else who is interested in this issue to join us.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo South Bronx Unite! See you there.