Thursday, November 17, 2005

BJ’s in the Bronx

Yesterday we, along with members of the RWDSU and UFCW unions, had a City Hall rally protesting the expansion of BJ’s into the Bronx. The two sites that the company is actively exploring are on Brush Avenue (where the application was already defeated in the Council) and in the redeveloped Bronx Terminal Market. The reason that BJ’s creates such antagonism is that, like Wal-Mart, the company is virulently anti-union – it arrested two female union organizers in its East NY store on trumped up shoplifting charges and illegally fired another union organizer in its Middle Village location – and threatens a number of the Bronx’s mostly minority owned independent supermarkets.

In his story today, the Daily News’s Bill Egbert highlights that James Vacca, the Councilman-elect in whose district Brush Avenue lies, has a number of concerns about the BJ’s application including traffic and the affect on small business:
"We have trouble retaining supermarkets in our area," said Vacca, "and the owner of one of our last two said if BJ's moves in, he's out of business."
This negative impact, one that went unaddressed in BJ’s application, is something that we analyze in our own economic impact analysis. Our basic conclusion is that BJ’s, as the largest food store ever built in the Bronx, would result in the closing of at least 4-5 area supermarkets, stores vital to the vitality of neighborhood shopping strips.

The other interesting aspect of Egbert’s piece is the fact that BJ’s is trying to weasel its way into the Bronx with the help of a so-called community benefits agreement (CBA). According to the News:

The chain recently resubmitted its application to the City Planning Commission and is hoping a community benefits agreement being hammered out by the borough's City Council delegation will stave off opposition this time around.

"We are currently in discussions with Bronx Council members about BJ's commitments on issues ranging from traffic improvements and wages to local hiring initiatives," said BJ's spokeswoman Amy Russ.

BJ's already has the support of Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera (D-Tremont) and the Bronx delegation's leader, Maria Baez (D-Morris Heights).
So not only is BJ’s negotiating a community benefits agreement without any community/labor/business representation but is doing so with councilmembers who don’t even represent the district! Does it make any sense for Maria Baez to be creating an agreement for the residents of Throggs Neck? And, as UFCW Local 1500 Lead Organizer Pat Purcell said at yesterday’s press conference, the actual terms of the document leave a lot to be desired; for example, the promise to address traffic impacts 1 year after the project opens. He also pointed out that it would be a shame if this fraudulent document crafted in a fraudulent process became a precedent for other employers wanting to enter/expand in the city.

Bronx 12 also coveredthe event and there’s a story in today’s Hoy (not online).