Friday, October 28, 2005

BJ's Back in the Bronx

There is a real donnybrook building in the Bronx over a controversial effort, apparently spearheaded by Councilmember Maria Baez, to bring BJ's back to the same Brush Avenue site that the full City Council had rejected for the store in February. The impetus behind the move is unclear but it has generated considerable ire from the unions that had fought to defeat the retailer last winter.

We need to remember that the battle against BJ's was widely seen to be a surrogate struggle against BJ's big brother- Wal-Mart. It was argued at the time that if the Council allowed BJ's permission to locate in the Bronx it would remove any rationale for opposing the larger threat of Wal-Mart in Rego Park. As it turned out, when BJ's did go down to defeat it triggered a three cushion billiard shot that ended up with the developer Vronado pulling the Walmonster from its Queens site.

The vehement opposition to BJ's, however, rested not only on its Wal-Mart-like qualities but also on defects that were unique to that particular retailer. In particular, BJ's had arrested two African-American women (coincidentally the leaders of a union organizing drive) on trumped up shoplifting charges, holding the women for over 24 hours at a local precinct.

What disturbs the two unions involved in all of this - Local 1500 of the UFCW and Local 338 of the RWDSU - is that the council members involved in the attempt at BJ's rehabilitation have met four times with store personnel but not at all with labor, In addition, there is a move afoot to craft some kind of a labor neutrality provision into a CBA (all without any consultation with the impacted unions), notwithstanding the fact that any such provision, should it have any real force, must be negotiated between BJ's and its workers' reps.

This battle has the potential to get real ugly if cooler heads don't prevail. To those of us who were part of the original fight it is puzzling that some council folks would press for a vote of the Bronx delegation on behalf of BJ's, especially since it is impossible for the application to get to the full council until after the first of the new year (when a new council member will take Madeline Provenzano's place).