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Eastland Food Products workers target Whole Foods over fair wages



Workers for Eastland Food Products, located in Cranston, were handing out flyers outside of Whole Foods on Waterman Street in Providence Friday afternoon to call attention to charges of wage theft. “Eastland hasn’t paid time and a half on Sundays or holidays for years,” states the flyer. “The workers, along with their union, UFCW Local 328, have filed a complaint to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to them.”

Workers are asking Whole Foods customers to call or tweet Eastland Food Products President Antonio Demarco and demand he pay workers fairly. You can reach Demarco by phone at 401-943-1190 or on Twitter @bigt79lucy

I talked to one of the workers, Victor, outside Whole Foods. I asked about the rumor I heard that workers at Eastland sometimes work 20 hour shifts, work that consists of cutting vegetables with sharp knives under cold conditions.

“Sometime we even do 24 hours straight,” said Victor. “We starve. We don’t sleep. Add to this all the pressure our supervisors put on us to the cost of the workers… Accidents are sometimes very common. Also, bad treatment from supervisors.”

I covered the unionization effort at Eastland Food Products two years ago. [See: here and here] According to this website, Eastland was established in 1986 as a “fruit and vegetable broker.” It has estimated revenues of between $100 and $500 million dollars and employs about 75 people. [Note that today I heard that Eastland employs twice that number.]

The workers at Eastland Food are “not getting any vacation time, they’re paid minimum wage,” said Megan Carvalho, UFCW representative. “They are not getting paid time and a half on Sundays which is required by law in Rhode Island. [Workers are] facing terrible, terrible exploitation.”

Since the formation of the union, “The company has been really hesitant to bargain any sort of real deal,” continued Carvalho. “There’s a 150 workers at Eastland, and they really deserve a lot more.”

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As for the 20-24 hour work days, Carvalho said that workers don’t really feel that working such shifts is voluntary. They fear losing their jobs.

Rhode Island State Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence), who is running for Lieutenant Governor, met with the workers, as did Rebecca Kislak, who is running for the seat Regunberg is vacating.

A man who identified himself as a manager of Whole Foods stepped outside briefly to say that Whole Foods is not a partner with Eastland Food Products.

One additional detail about the flyer being handed out: It was perforated so that customer could fill in their names and leave w note with Whole Foods management demanding fair treatment for Eastland Food Products employees.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.