Wholesale Market Merchants Sue to Keep New Neighbor Out
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By MANNY FERNANDEZ
Published: January 23, 2006
Merchants at a South Bronx wholesale market that is a major supplier of the New York region’s fruits and vegetables have sued the city, trying to stop a produce company’s planned move to a city-owned site across the street.
Baldor Specialty Foods, one of the Northeast’s largest importers and distributors of produce, intends to move this summer to a 12.8-acre Hunts Point site that includes a 185,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse and distribution building.
The site, at 155 Food Center Drive, is outside the exit gate of the produce market, known as the Hunts Point Terminal Market. The market receives produce daily from around the world and is part of the city’s wholesale food distribution center in Hunts Point, where city officials say more than 130 wholesalers generate annual revenues of more than $3 billion.
In court documents filed last week in the State Supreme Court in the Bronx, lawyers for the produce market’s merchant cooperative say that the city’s Economic Development Corporation illegally awarded Baldor, a nonunion company, a lease for the site and that it threatens the cooperative’s roughly 50 family-owned businesses.
“Having another major produce business in the cooperative’s very backyard would prove crippling to the cooperative’s members’ businesses, and, given the cooperative’s long-term investment in the terminal market and its facility, this blow will be particularly devastating,” said the lawyers, Randy M. Mastro and Cynthia S. Arato.
A lawyer for Baldor, which was also named in the suit, said in a statement that the case was without merit. “Hunts Point Terminal Market is asking the court to halt the expansion of a business that now employs more than 500 people and will hire more than 300 additional workers to its payroll as a result of the move to new headquarters,” said the lawyer, Kevin McGrath.
A spokesman for the Economic Development Corporation and a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department said yesterday they could not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for the merchants’ cooperative also declined to comment. A judge has scheduled a hearing today on the case.
A lawyer for the merchants, Mr. Mastro, also represented Laro Service Systems, the company whose lawsuit against the city delayed for months the Fulton Fish Market’s relocation from Manhattan to its new home in Hunts Point.
Members and supporters of Teamsters Local 202, the union that represents drivers and warehouse workers at the produce market, demonstrated on Friday outside Baldor’s South Bronx headquarters. They said that the company paid substandard wages and that it fired two workers who had attempted to organize a union.
In a statement, Baldor denied the allegations and said that it offered better wages and benefits than the union.
The two sides held rival rallies. A group of Baldor workers stood on the loading docks wearing antiunion T-shirts, a hand-painted banner fastened to the top of the red-brick building declaring, “Proud to be union-free.”
Meanwhile, passing trucks honked in support of union members, who wore signs hanging from their necks with messages like “Baldor drivers deserve respect!!”