The fight for fair wages for Golden Farm employees continued Tuesday night, as workers and community members gathered to discuss the next steps that both parties plan to take.
Five workers, along with 20 concerned residents, met in the cafeteria of P.S. 230 and bandied ideas that would push Golden Farm owner Sonny Kim to hand over unpaid back wages to workers, who allege that until recently, they were paid less $5 an hour for 72 hours of work per week.
But the clash is no longer just between the workers and the owner, said Golden Farm employee Martin Gonzalez. Many of the store’s cashiers—who Gonzalez said were in fact making minimum wage prior to the lawsuit—are angry with the other employees for stirring the pot, and have told customers that the other workers are lying about receiving unjust wages.
“I hadn’t realized that cashiers were being treated differently from all of us. On the average, they’ve been paid at or above minimum wage, whereas we’ve been paid way below the minimum wage,” Gonzalez said. “It’s really exhausting not only to fight with the owner, but also to be fighting with our own compañeros inside the store.”
An offer made by Kim to settle the lawsuit was deemed unsatisfactory by the angry workers, and as a result, a union election is being planned.
Gonzalez said he feels confident that the election will be a success, despite lack of enthusiasm from some of the store's 24 employees, as well as threats from Kim to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“I think that we can win the election at this moment, because we are even more committed,” he said. “Before we were afraid of speaking up, and now we are not afraid. If immigration comes, let it come.”
In the meantime, New York Communities for Change, an advocacy group that has spearheaded the Golden Farm effort, is planning a one-day boycott of the store for April 21, as well as a “Week of Action intended to raise awareness about the workers’ plight.
Kate Barut, a Communities for Change labor organizer, said a one-day boycott will be easier to execute than a full-fledged boycott, which could put employees at risk of losing their jobs.
“Boycotts are complicated, because at the same time that we’re putting pressure on the boss, we’re also giving him incentive to say ‘Business is slow, I can’t hold on to all these workers,’” she said, adding that a full-time boycott requires extensive planning and support.
“Nothing is worse than a half-assed boycott,” she said.
The rest of the meeting was dedicated to community members sharing thoughts on how to best execute the next phase of the plan. Involving local artists, ensuring that leaflets are available in multiple languages, and engaging civic groups, schools and churches were all mentioned as options.