Greengrocers Settle Labor Abuse Charges

Attorney General Spitzer today announced two landmark settlements that will help end pervasive labor law abuses in New York City's greengrocer industry. The settlements provide nearly $100,000 in back wages for workers at two city greengrocers.

In a related action, Spitzer's office has begun a comprehensive educational program designed to encourage greengrocers throughout the city and state to comply with federal and state labor laws.

"As a society, we should be far beyond the point where individuals are required to work long, arduous hours for less than the minimum wage," Spitzer said. "Today's settlements are a first step toward ensuring that greengrocer employees will be treated fairly and that they will receive all the wages to which they are entitled."

Spitzer's office continues a broad investigation into the greengrocer industry, which comprises more than 2,000 retail stores in New York City alone and employs tens of thousands of workers who are predominantly Mexican immigrants.

Under the terms of the settlements, Lucky Farm (located on the Upper West Side) will pay $62,500 in back wages to six workers and 118 First Avenue Food & Vegetable Corporation (located on the Lower East Side) will pay $29,608 in back wages and damages to four workers. Both settlements also provide for monitoring of time and payroll records by the Attorney General's office to ensure future compliance with the law.

In these two stores, employees worked an average of 72 scheduled hours per week. Salaries generally ranged from $180-$360 per week or $2.60-$3.60 per hour, with no overtime paid for hours beyond 40 hours. Federal and state minimum wage laws require payment of $5.15 per hour and one-and one-half times that amount for work more than 40 hours per week.

The settlements and the ongoing investigation were praised by labor representatives. Ernesto Jofre of Local 169, said: "UNITE is committed to fighting sweatshop conditions in greengrocer stores and elsewhere." The union assisted Spitzer's investigation by referring some workers to the Attorney General's office.

The Attorney General's office is also working with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Korean Produce Association, an organization that provides a distribution network and consulting services to greengrocers, to establish an employer-focused education campaign to help employers comply with federal and state wage and hour labor laws. The first seminar was held in July at the Korean Produce Association's office at the Hunt's Point market. Additional outreach efforts are planned.

The Attorney General's investigation, which was launched last year:

  • focuses on changing widespread practices across a diffuse industry with thousands of employers rather than by targeting the conduct of a single large employer;
  • encourages legal compliance not only through enforcement, but through employer-focused education and training seminars on labor laws; and
  • aims to assist immigrant workers who are often fearful of coming forward to report legal violations.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Terri Gerstein and Deputy Bureau Chief Jennifer Brand of the Attorney General's Labor Bureau, which is under the direction of Bureau Chief M. Patricia Smith.