Brooklyn oil workers at the United Metro Energy Corp. in New York City have been on strike for five months, as they demand a fair union contract after two years of failed negotiations.
Since April 19, the workers have maintained a 24-hour picket line.
They joined Teamsters Local 553 in February 2019 and since that time have been fighting for a contract. The essential workers supply New York with heating oil, diesel and gasoline — but are paid as much as 50 percent less than similar workers doing the same job in the same area. They also receive inferior health and retirement benefits.
Demos Demopoulos, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 553, joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss the ongoing struggle and how the company may have violated labor laws by firing striking workers and bringing in less qualified workers.
A billionaire boss refuses to negotiate
Demopoulos said he is flabbergasted that the strike has lasted five months. He pointed out that John Catsimatidis, the owner of the United Metro Energy Corp., is a billionaire and an immigrant, who has nevertheless fired eight of the 14 striking workers, most of whom are immigrants themselves.
Catsimatidis arbitrarily picks and chooses which of the striking workers he wants to fire, and the attorney negotiating with the union remains uncommunicative, he said.
The introduction of replacement workers has raised ecological and safety concerns. Many of the substitutes are unqualified to handle hazardous materials, which is a safety issue to the community and the environment, Demopoulos added.
Union awaits Labor Board’s decision
Demopoulos is happy to have more union-friendly board members on the National Labor Relations Board. The move to fire striking workers and replace them with less qualified workers likely violates labor laws, he said. Attorneys for the Teamsters are currently in communication with board members and are patiently awaiting a decision.