Hauppauge, N.Y. – Yesterday morning a group of Teamster furniture movers who have been locked out by Farmingdale-based Waldner’s Business Environments since July 5th, crashed a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature to protest a politician’s family ties to the union busting company.
Legislator Steve Stern (D-16th District), who is married to Waldner’s President Meredith Waldner Stern, was repeatedly questioned by the workers and their family members about why he has yet to intervene in the dispute — despite the fact that he has for months been promising local labor leaders and elected officials that the company would return to the table for good faith negotiations.
“Don’t we deserve better that this?” asked 33 year Waldner’s employee John Willix. “There aren’t too many good union jobs left on Long Island like there used to be. You would think a public official like Steve Stern would understand that and do the right thing” added Willix. “All we want is to go back to work,” he says. “After all the years we’ve put in and everything we’ve done for the company, that shouldn’t be too much to ask,” he finishes.
According to Roger Clayman from the Long Island Federation of Labor, Stern has even gone so far as to say that Waldner’s would make sure all deliveries would be done by other Teamster carriers. The lead negotiator for the workers, Local 814 President Jason Ide, points out that Waldner’s categorically rejected this proposal weeks ago.
“Waldner’s has an obligation to return to the bargaining table and negotiate with Teamsters Local 814 regarding its unilateral decision to shut down its warehouse and delivery operation,” said Roger Clayman, Executive Director of the Long Island Federation of Labor.
“Waldner’s has shown no consideration for the human cost of its business plan, and the families of long-term employees are being torn apart financially,” Clayman said.
“The Long Island Federation of Labor is calling upon the Suffolk County Legislature to help bring Waldner’s to the bargaining table as soon as possible or to join in a public condemnation of their actions. We have asked Legislator Steve Stern to help achieve the goal of getting Waldner’s to the bargaining table because of his family connection to the company,” Clayman said.
So far, according to President Ide, Waldner’s continues to refuse to make a counter-offer to the union’s opening bargaining proposal, will not agree to meet to bargain a new contract and has been sub-contracting their delivery and installation work to a host of cheaper non-Teamster companies. The union currently has charges against the company pending at the National Labor Relations Board. “What the company has been doing is hardly what Stern has been telling people. It’s more like the opposite actually.” says Ide. “If he doesn’t have the power to stop his family from pursuing this reckless union-busting strategy then he needs to step up and join his colleagues in Suffolk County who are demanding an end to the lock-out” says Ide.
According to the union, many legislators have already signed on to a letter to Waldner’s management that urges the company to end the lock-out and return to the table to reach an “immediate settlement.” Presiding Officer and Suffolk County Legislator DuWayne Gregory (D-15th District), who has spoken out on behalf of the workers before, and was one of the first to sign the letter, released the following statement:
“As the Presiding Officer of the Suffolk County Legislature and an elected representative, I am encouraging Waldner’s to return to the table with the goal of putting our residents back to work while also ensuring that our local companies are able to thrive.”
Waldner’s has many contracts with various layers of government in New York City and in both Suffolk and Nassau counties; the union has been publicly calling attention to this fact since the lock-out began. A new website, www.DropWaldners.com, encourages “socially-responsible” organizations to boycott the furniture dealer until the dispute has been resolved. Just recently, 814 officials applauded New York City’s Economic Development Corporation for deciding to drop the furniture dealer in favor of alternate vendors.
Legislator Kate Browning (D-3rd District), another elected official actively supporting the Waldner’s workers, said she was disturbed that a company being charged with violating federal labor law could still do work for the county. “I think we need to look at what type of vendors our county does business with. Certainly a company like Waldner’s that replaces long-time workers with benefits and good wages with non-Teamster workers with low wages and less benefits isn’t the type of company that we should be spending tax dollars on.” she says. “ I will ask my colleague Legislator Stern to step up and help to put an end to this shameful lock-out and help get these local workers back to work.”
To date, despite pleas from Long Island residents, his colleagues on the Suffolk County Legislature and labor leaders from all across the region, Stern has refused to intervene and help broker a settlement that will keep good union jobs on Long Island.
The union maintains that they are committed to bargaining a fair contract for both sides and has repeatedly expressed that they would be willing to consider any issues Waldner’s management would bring to the table.