Why start a boycott of Golden Farm in the first place?
For years, while subjecting workers to verbal and even physical abuse, Golden Farm, owned by Sonny Kim, paid substantially below minimum wage, for long hours with no overtime pay. To cover up wage theft, Kim submitted fraudulent reports to the state. Workers were also denied any paid sick, vacation or bereavement leave. (This contributed to the death of one of them, Felix, from cancer discovered too late. Kim fired Felix’s brother for taking three unpaid days to assist Felix’s family.) Some of the workers finally sued. Only a fraction of their stolen wages has been repaid, and Kim retaliated against them in various ways. They decided to unionize. Kim increased the retaliation and ultimately evicted families of union supporters from the housing he rented to them. Kim padded his payroll with non-workers to vote against unionization and committed other violations of federal labor law. The National Labor Relations Board was not fooled, and the workers elected RWDSU Local 338. Kim hired expensive union busting attorneys and stalled with meritless appeals. When these had been lost, he was forced to come to the table. Kim stalled there, too, for months. Workers called upon the community for support, especially in the form of a boycott to put pressure on Kim.
Why Golden Farm? And what business is it of ours?
The ferocious resistance by Sonny Kim is not comparable to what has occurred at other stores in Brooklyn where workers have organized to assert their rights. It has necessitated greater community support than elsewhere for the workers—many of whom are, or at least were, our neighbors.
Golden Farm has around 30 employees. The pay and the conditions there have been worse than in many smaller local stores. When larger employers resort to such extreme measures to drive down their costs, they drive more law abiding Mom and Pop stores out of business. That is what happened to the grocery store which used to be across the street from Golden Farm.
Why was the boycott suspended? And why has it been restarted?
In March, Mr. Kim promised “substantive” negotiations and the possibility of interim improvements, if we would suspend the boycott. We were skeptical, but we believed we had to give Kim a chance to show he could act in in good faith, and we hoped against hope that this would move the situation forward. Months later, the union, which originally urged us to give Kim another chance, reports a near total lack of progress due to intransigence and bad faith on Mr. Kim’s part. “It has become clear to Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW that Mr. Kim does not believe the workers who operate his store and keep his company going deserve basic benefits.” (Local 338 Op-ed on Kensington Patch).
If Mr. Kim manages to play out the clock, so that there is still no contract a year after he finally had to recognize unionization on September 19, 2012, labor law will allow for a new election. The likely result is that Mr. Kim will then benefit from driving a number of pro-union workers out, and intimidating other workers. Decertification of the union would remove the chief obstacle to firing the remaining workers who stood up to him. After that, who will blow the whistle if he rolls back wages to below the legal minimum again, stops paying overtime, etc.?
What are the workers after, anyway? Can Golden Farm afford it?
Their key contract demands are small increases above minimum wage, a few sick and vacation days, and protections against firing without just cause. Unionized supermarkets like Foodtown pay about twice what Mr. Kim pays and have health insurance as well as sick pay and vacations. In Brooklyn in the last year, eight stores similar in size to Golden Farm have agreed to more or less the same contract that Mr. Kim is rejecting. None has gone out of business.
RWDSU/UFCW Local 338: the union representing the workers, their members, in negotiations.
NYCC (NY Communities for Change): a non-profit working with Local 338 on organizing supermarkets.
Occupy Kensington: residents who came together last year; central organizers of this return to the boycott.
Old FAQs below – still useful!
How long will the boycott continue?
The boycott is to pressure store owner Sonny Kim to sit down and negotiate a fair contract with his workers—something he is required to do! Mr. Kim can end the boycott right now by simply doing the right thing.
Aren’t the workers all getting paid the legal minimum now?
Yes, after taking the store owner to court, they were able to get the legal minimum—but the only way to guarantee their rights by having everything in a contract.
Why is a contract necessary?
Because the store owner has proven that he cannot be trusted on his own to do the right thing for his workers.
How much did Sonny Kim underpay his workers at Golden Farm?
According to court papers, the Department of Labor found that from 2004 to 2008 27 workers were underpaid $350,132.14, and that from 2009 to 2010, 22 workers were underpaid $254,055.91. Over $600,000 dollars stolen from some over the lowest paid workers in New York!
When did the majority of Golden Farm workers vote in their union?
May 2, 2012
When was the union officially certified?
September 20, 2012.
Why did it take over 4 months to certify the union?
Because Sonny Kim and his lawyers filed a series of frivolous objections to the vote to stall for time, all of which the National Labor Relations Board eventually threw out. During that time, Kim has been continually retaliating against the workers.
Is the union defending the workers against Sonny Kim’s attempts to punish his employees for sticking up for their rights?
Yes, the union has filed a number of charges against Kim with the NLRB, which is looking into them…but the workers also need the Kensington community’s continued support to continue their fight for justice!
What kind of reputation has Golden Farm gotten as a result of its treatment of its workers?
Golden Farm was featured in a report, The Economic Low Road, by UnitedNY, where the store was included among the “worst low‐wage employers in New York City.” And the Daily News described the late Golden Farm worker Felix Trinidad as “symbol in the struggle” for paid sick days for low wage workers in NYC.
The workers want paid sick days. Isn’t paying for sick days a hardship on a small business like Golden Farm?
Actually, studies have shown that having paid sick days increases worker productivity, saves money for employers and the community, and reduces health hazards at stores like Golden Farm. And… it’s the right thing to do!
Are the workers trying to put the store out of business with the boycott? That’s not fair to the workers or the community!
Golden Farm is no danger of closing any time soon, and the workers–especially the stock workers—are proud of the thousands of hours of hard work they have put in to make Golden Farm a fine store. They take pride in the their work, and they only ask in return for the same respect and care that they have shown in making this store a success. We neighbors owe them that and much more!
Why does a small business like Golden Farm need a union?
Because, unfortunately, Golden Farm’s owner Sonny Kim has demonstrated over and over that he cannot be trusted to treat his workers fairly without outside supervision. The local courts, the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor, and the NY Attorney General have all had to intervene!
What kind of support have the workers gotten in their fight for their rights?
Thousand of Kensington community members have signed petitions in support of the workers, and many have supported the boycott. Local elected officials like Senator Eric Adams and Councilman Brad Lander have lent their support, as have local and citywide community leaders and activists.
The cashiers say everything is fine. Why?
The checkout people have always been treated better than the stock workers, who have been treated with disrespect and complete contempt for their basic rights. So the cashiers are among the minority who opposed the union—but a contract will benefit them too.