FreshDirect Drivers File Class Action Lawsuit Against The Company Over Gratuities

Idling, polluting FreshDirect truck in Chelsea, Manhattan several weeks ago / ©

On Wednesday, March 19th, delivery workers for FreshDirect filed a class action lawsuit against the firm over gratuities they are losing due to misleading company policies.

It is not the first time FreshDirect is under fire for its dubious labor practices and once again solidifies even more why the majority of residents do not want FreshDirect to relocate to our waterfront.

Back in 2007 FreshDirect fired scores of immigrant workers because of a pending unionization vote.

When the deal to move to the South Bronx waterfront was announced 2 years ago as almost a done deal with no public hearing or input, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito wrote in a letter addressed to the IDA (New York City Industrial Development Agency, a division of the New York Economic Development Corporation) stating, among many issues with the deal, the labor problems at FreshDirect.

In the letter, Mark-Viverito says:

“Fresh Direct’s labor practices have concerned me since a number of troubling allegations were first brought to my attention as a member of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.  According to Teamsters Local 805, Fresh Direct has made concerted efforts to block the union from organizing in their workplace, including holding anti-union meetings, passing out misinformation on what union representation means, and making threats.  As the unionization campaign was gaining steam several years ago, ICE initiated an audit of the legal statuses of Fresh Direct employees, causing around 200 workers to leave; many believe this action was an attempt to squash the organizing drive.  Fresh Direct has reportedly also refused to enter into a neutrality agreement with Local 805 to allow the organizing efforts to proceed without interference. This is also a serious concern. Given the nature of the working conditions at Fresh Direct – employees can sometimes be asked to work upwards of 16 hours in a facility refrigerated to 38 degrees – it is perfectly reasonable that this workforce would seek labor protections. Fresh Direct should not stand in the way of unionization, if the employees freely choose that route.”

[Read the full letter here]

Bronx residents are constantly being told that this vulgar sweetheart deal worth over $130 million will bring a thousand new jobs to the borough. I won’t deny that we desperately need jobs, however, we need quality, living wage jobs where our residents do not have to also collect food stamps and welfare benefits because their wages aren’t enough — something many workers at FreshDirect qualify for because the wages are so low.

All these aforementioned reasons and the fact that over 50 community based organizations and the majority of Bronxites oppose this deal (only a handful of Bronx based organizations are on board with this move) is more reason why this deal must not happen.

The Bronx deserves better and we can only hope that borough president Ruben Diaz Jr is listening to us as well as all these negative issues surrounding FreshDirect.

It also should be noted that the proposed FreshDirect site is immediately adjacent to the Bronx Harlem River Waterfront District Plan which if and when completed will bring over 1,500 units (2,100 if the Magnusson plan is carried out) and thousands of residents and people to the area.

Southern plan for the Special Harlem River Waterfront District Plan in the Lower Concourse Rezoning District of the Bronx. Note FreshDirect's proposed location in relation to the site.

The truck traffic from a major operation such as FreshDirect will not fit in with the ever-growing residential, commercial and community based nature of the Harlem River Waterfront District Plan. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr should dump FreshDirect and call it a loss yet it would be a big win for the people. It would mean that our elected officials heard the majority and sided with public interest and needs versus corporate.

Ruben Diaz Jr, if you’re reading this, I sure hope you consider that Mott Haven and Port Morris residents have diligently worked on a comprehensive waterfront plan that the residents want, need, and deserve and should be included within the Bronx Harlem River Waterfront District Plan.

The following is from Grub Street:

FreshDirect Drivers File Class Action Lawsuit Over Delivery Gratuities

A lawsuit filed yesterday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York alleges that imprecise language on FreshDirect’s website has been misleading customers into thinking that the service’s “Delivery Charge” — currently $5.99 a pop — is actually a tip for FreshDirect drivers. Here’s the argument: Because the home grocery delivery service already has a fuel surcharge in place and also does not explain the purpose of the delivery charge on its website, consumers may be confused. Additionally, because employees are not allowed to ask for tips and are not generally tipped, legal papers contend, FreshDirect continues to profit while its drivers are stiffed out of gratuities.

Two firms, Bronson Lipsky LLP and Gottlieb & Associates, represent the class, which may grow in size to include any FreshDirect delivery drivers working for the company as of March 19, as well as all those who worked in that capacity since March of 2008. Bronson Lipsky estimates 300 delivery personnel making 50 deliveries per day translates to $23,400,000 per year in “lost” gratuities, so the larger estimate may easily stretch beyond $100 million. Lawyers allege FreshDirect acted in violation of New York Labor Law and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the latter of which is being used in an effort to “recover the difference between the overtime rate at which they were paid and should have been paid,” one that includes the delivery charge.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.