About 20 Best Market workers were among about 150 participants at an East Meadow rally calling for the chain’s new owner to address work inequality issues, such as 26 of 27 store managers being men, attendees said.
Most of the participants at this week's rally were women who came to Long Island to attend the United Association for Labor Education’s 44th Northeast Summer School for Women in Unions and Worker Organizations, a five-day residential program held at Hofstra University in Hempstead.
Several legislators also were among the attendees outside Best Market’s store on Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow, where those rallying Tuesday called for discount grocer Lidl, which bought 27 Best Market stores this year, to provide workers with stable work schedules and higher wages, and to promote more women to management jobs.
“They have the opportunity to do the right thing. They can set a standard,” said Diana Robinson, program coordinator for the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies in Manhattan.
The CUNY school hosted the summer school, which was attended by about 166 women, mostly from New York State. A school tradition is to have participants support workers in the community trying to improve their workplaces, Robinson said.
“We learned about this campaign through Do Better Best Market,” said Robinson, referring to the rally’s organizer, which is a movement formed by current and former Best Market workers about 2 1/2 years ago calling for better working conditions.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union also was involved, but Best Market/Lidl workers are not unionized.
State Sens. James Gaughran, John Brooks, Kevin Thomas and Monica Martinez, and state Assemb. Michaelle Solages were among the elected officials at the rally.
“It’s always important to stand by employees. Employees are the lifeblood of any good business,” said Solages (D-Elmont).
In January, Lidl US, the American arm of Germany-based grocer Lidl, bought 27 grocery stores in New York and New Jersey owned by Bethpage-based Best Market, including all 24 on Long Island, for an undisclosed price.
“As we transition Best Market stores to Lidl stores over the next two to three years, we are committed to creating an environment where all employees can thrive,” Lidl spokesman William Harwood said.
About half of the store managers at Lidl’s 67 U.S. stores, excluding Best Market, are women, he said.
“We are proud of the diversity of our workforce and see it as a strength that we will continue to build on along Long Island as we transition Best Market stores to Lidl stores over the next two to three years,” he said this week.
Among the Best Market employees' complaints about working conditions are that work hours are being cut and new workers are making more than longtime employees doing the same work, said Jill Cooley, a full-time assistant bakery team lead at Best Market’s Queens store.
“My main issues are our pay raises. There’s no set pay scale for individual workers,” said Cooley, 52.
Other employees, such as Lauren Rzeplinski, 27, say that Lidl has been delivering on its promises for more work hours and training, better pay and other benefits.
“They’ve been very transparent. and they’ve really held up their end of the deal with all of us,” said Rzeplinski, who is a bakery team leader at the Best Market in Islip. The Centereach resident is in training to be a manager at Lidl’s new Center Moriches store opening by early next year, she said.
Lidl disputes claims about reduced employee work hours, saying, "There has been no overall net reduction in hours at Best Market."
Best Market employs about 2,500 people, and Lidl said it will offer employment with the same or better pay and benefits to all of those who were employed at the time of the sale in January.
Lidl U.S. employees on Long Island will earn a competitive salary of at least $14 an hour, Harwood said. Minimum wage on Long Island is $12.