Emails between FreshDirect lobbyist Harry Giannoulis of the Parkside Group and New York City Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, Alicia Glen raises a number of questions including whether or not Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration were pushed into ceasing any attempt to derail FreshDirect’s proposed move to The Bronx — a campaign promise de Blasio was quite vocal about.
Mayor de Blasio was so vocal, in fact, that on March 10th, 2014, Harry Giannoulis sounded the claxon calls of panic on behalf of FreshDirect when he wrote Glen:
“…The President and Founder [of FreshDirect] Jason Ackerman wants to sit with you to discuss where the city is at terms of his company and this project. He is actively out there lining up financing etc and feels quite nervous having major problems with City Hall trying to block its expansion. I think its a half our meeting where we could over the top line facts and hear from you and where you and the Mayor think this is all going to go.”
Giannoulis goes on to say that they, “regularly hear rumors that City Hall is reviewing documents to try and find a way to kill the deal. We have been told by elected officials that the Mayor has told them he wants to kill the deal as recently as two months ago. We believe that the administration really needs to hear from us, and hear our side and some facts, which has never happened.”
Giannoulis then continues to talk about polling data that shows that over 80% of Bronx residents want FreshDirect to move to The Bronx but this is not quite accurate based on community board meetings along with public hearings where overwhelmingly 99% of attendees are AGAINST this deal as well as a poll conducted by News12 The Bronx. Even as far North as Riverdale, where FreshDirect delivers, residents have united against FreshDirect’s proposed move.
On November 18, 2014, News12 The Bronx conducted a poll which had almost 600 respondents (historical engagements of polls by News12 as researched by Welcome2TheBronx average roughy 150 participants) which to this day remains one of the most engaged polls ever. 64% of respondents overwhelmingly said NO they do not support FreshDirect’s move to The Bronx (372 votes) with 36% approving of the move (208 votes). It is important to note that News12 The Bronx reaches over 300,000 households in our borough.
The next day on March 11, 2014, Alicia Glen replies:
“Harry —understand this is a fraught issue Kyle [ Kimball, president of NYCEDC] is engaging with Jason[Ackerman] and I will get an update this week to see what next steps make sense.”
The de Blasio Administration Blows It & Sells Out
Now this is where it gets interesting:
Harry Giannoulis replies by saying, “Thanks and yes I appreciate the situation. There may be an opportunity to give the Mayor a victory regarding living wage, from which they are exempt. Let’s stay in touch” to which Glen replies and says, “If you can get that done, all will be good.” 6 months later, FreshDirect announces that their unionized employees would get a pay raise along with cheaper benefits. It is here where we can clearly see that back-channel negotiations are going on — whether de Blasio knows about it or not is up for debate but this does not let him off the hook for he’s ultimately responsible for his staff’s actions.
It is quite clear based on the emails and chain of events that the de Blasio administration chose to listen more closely to a lobbyist and corporations versus the citizens of The Bronx and in particular the South Bronx who overwhelmingly and consistently have been against this corporate welfare and dirty deal for 3 years now.
A deal that is clearly an environmental disaster (including climate change concerns due to the site’s location in a flood zone) for the residents of the community and that The Guardian has dubbed a case of environmental racism allowing for the continuance of the ‘Tale of Two Cities’ which Mayor Bill de Blasio has campaigned and made a corner stone of his administration to change. A deal that the majority of the area’s elected officials are in strong opposition to (including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, State Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, Councilwoman Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, Congressman Jose E. Serrano, and State Senator Jose M. Serrano).
The community has demanded a new environmental impact statement (EIS) since FreshDirect is basing their move on a 22 year old EIS. The old EIS never took into consideration the fact that the neighborhood may become residential in nature and that it would be rezoned not once, not twice, but three times allowing for thousands of more residents to move in. Yet it seems clear that our progressive-end-the-tale-of-
During the past 14 months de Blasio’s administration could have filed an amicus brief on the community’s behalf and insisted on new environmental impact statement. Mayor de Blasio could have followed Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s steps and filed testimonies in support of the community’s support for waterfront access as well as deliver testimony at the Economic Development Corporation AGAINST this deal.
Instead, de Blasio has been a big let down and remained silent on the issue. Assuming their were no legal avenues to kill the deal on behalf of the residents who’s health and lives hinge upon if it continues to fruition, the very least he could have done was to provide the aforementioned testimonies.
Instead, de Blasio chose to show a lack of political will and moral courage. His administration simply has continued to argue that it is legally difficult to undo Bloomberg-signed contracts — yet has broken other contracts when he ordered the Department of Education to cancel an $82 million contract with a company for unethical labor violations (much like FreshDirect has clearly demonstrated via their unethical labor practices)
FreshDirect Continues to Raise Ethical Questions
It doesn’t end with the emails.
Once again FreshDirect finds itself in the middle of a lawsuit by its employees (we’re seriously losing count on the amount of lawsuits FreshDirect has found itself embroiled in from its employees).
“FreshDirect will be sued for punishing workers who stayed home during snowstorm.
The union representing more than 900 FreshDirect workers is planning to take legal action Monday to fight the company for firing and disciplining employees who were no-shows during a snowstorm.
The conflict traces back to a storm that pounded the city on Jan. 4, 2014.
At the time, Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo declared a state of emergency and said only essential service workers should be on the roads. At FreshDirect, workers were expected to show up despite the weather.
But many employees could not make it in. According to UFCW Local 2013, which represents the workers, 75 employees received written warnings, two were suspended and one was discharged because of their absences.”
How can de Blasio support this proposed move to the South Bronx and this company, one that continuously violates its workers rights? How can our Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr and our other Bronx elected officials sit back and say, “Hey, they’re providing us with much needed jobs” when this is the type of company that they are?
FreshDirect consistently has an abysmal employer/employee relationship record whether its employees suing the company for unpaid tips or back in 2007 when union leaders accused FreshDirect of calling immigration officials to hurt their efforts in organizing their workers. This resulted in many undocumented workers to flee the company.
A Tale of Two Cities Continues
Mayor de Blasio has a lot of explaining to do to the thousands of residents of the South Bronx in the neighborhoods of Port Morris and Mott Haven who will be directly impacted by his neglect on the issue and the continuance of two cities in New York City: One where corporations continue to have all the power and the other where residents continue to strive for basic rights including an end to environmental racism and corporate welfare.
There’s still time for Mayor de Blasio to act lest he pushes away the very people who helped vote him into office based on his promises to end a tale of two cities and kill deals like FreshDirect. Did de Blasio know that these communications were occurring between Glen, Giannoulis, and Kyle?
The Mayor can end this deal and come out a true winner and a man of his word as well as keeping true to his administration’s mission to end this saga of a divided city.