Landmark Code Of Conduct To Improve Working Conditions In The Greengrocer Industry

State Attorney General Spitzer today announced a landmark Greengrocer Code of Conduct which his office crafted together with representatives of store owners and store workers to govern the treatment of workers at greengrocer stores in New York City. The Code of Conduct is a significant development in the Attorney General's continuing efforts to address labor violations in the industry.

Store owners who sign the Greengrocer Code of Conduct pledge to comply with state labor laws, provide specific employee benefits, and submit to unannounced monitoring of their employment practices. The Attorney General's office agrees to refrain from investigating past civil wage and hour violations by participating employers who sign on before December 31, 2002 and who are in current compliance with the law.

"The Greengrocer Code of Conduct will greatly improve the working conditions of immigrant employees at participating stores and throughout the industry," Spitzer said. "The Code also provides employers with an opportunity to improve their employee relations and focus on compliance with the law's requirements. I encourage consumers to shop at stores with the Code of Conduct seal, which assures fair treatment for workers, and to patronize employers who have pledged to treat their workers with dignity."

Participating stores will have a "Code of Conduct" seal from the Attorney General's office on the store window, signaling to consumers that the store complies with applicable laws and other code provisions. Twenty stores have already signed the Code since it was finalized late last week, and more are expected to participate as the Code is publicized among greengrocer employers.

The Code requires employers to comply with basic state labor law requirements, including minimum and overtime wages, meal breaks, maintenance of payroll records, and days off. Participating employers also pledge to grant paid vacation and sick days to long-term employees. In addition, they agree to regular unannounced, impartial monitoring of their labor practices, including a review of time and payroll records, and private employee interviews. A toll-free hotline has been set up for complaints of Code violations. That number is: 800-729-1180.

There are an estimated 2,000 greengrocer stores in the New York metropolitan area. The stores, which are primarily owned by Korean immigrants, usually employ between five and fifteen workers. The workers are generally Mexican immigrants. In the fall of 1999, the Attorney General's office launched an investigation into alleged labor law violations throughout the industry. The on-going investigation uncovered that workers were averaging 72-hour work-weeks, and earning between $3 - $4 per hour, with no overtime. Federal and state minimum wage laws require payment of $5.15 per hour and time-and-a-half for work beyond 40 hours per week.

The Code presents an additional approach beyond litigation and education by the Attorney General to curtail labor violations in the greengrocer industry. The office previously had obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution for workers from non-complying stores. It has also partnered with the Korean-American Association of Greater New York and the Korean Produce Association to establish employer-focused education campaigns to help employers comply with state labor laws. Nearly 250 employers have, to date, received training.

"The Code represents a milestone in the defense of the rights of all undocumented immigrants, in particular Mexicans who make up the largest percentage of workers in the green grocery industry. Attorney General Spitzer has demonstrated once again his continued commitment with the hard-working immigrant community in New York. We are confident that the Code is the first step to encourage all employers to comply with the labor laws and likewise respect the civil and human rights of undocumented workers" said Salvador Beltr?n del Rio, Consul General of Mexico in New York.

"The Code of Conduct is a major breakthrough in bringing dignity to thousands of immigrants working in sweatshop conditions in the green grocery industry. We applaud Attorney General Spitzer for reaching this agreement--by creating a living wage policy in the green grocery industry, the floor for all low wage workers has been raise," said Immanuel Ness, founder of the New York City Community-Labor Coalition.

The Attorney General commended these Associations, their member store owners and the worker representatives for their participation in long and difficult negotiations that have concluded with an agreement that benefits both store owners and their workers.

The Greengrocer Code of Conduct was negotiated by Andrew Kim, President of the Korean American Association of Greater New York; Samuel Ahne, Esq., Vice President of the Korean American Association of Greater New York; greengrocer store owners Yo Hyun Kim and Hyun Joon Kim; Gerardo Dominguez, co-founder of the non-profit organization Casa Mexico, and founder of the Mexican Workers Association; Colleen Gardner, Director of Community Services, New York State AFL-CIO; and Bureau Chief Patricia Smith and Assistant Attorney General Terri Gerstein of the AG's Labor Bureau.


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