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“Billionaire Canceled our Christmas,” say Striking Workers

Workers at United Metro Energy have been on strike for 240 days

New York oil workers on strike for equal pay rallied with union supporters outside John Catsimatidis’ Midtown office on Wednesday, saying the billionaire’s union busting has ruined Christmas for their families. Immigrant workers from the Catsimatidis-owned United Metro Energy Corp. (UMEC) provided gasoline, diesel, and heating oil to New York throughout the pandemic, while Catsimatidis — a major political donor — paid them wages as much as 50% lower than at other city oil companies. They have been on strike for nearly eight months, since April 19th.

“For years we’ve been paid way less than other workers doing the same job in this industry and when we went on strike, he fired us,” said Andre Soleyn, an oil terminal operator at United Metro Energy Corp. “It’s the holiday season and our families are going without because John Catsimatidis is putting his profits ahead of New York’s working families.”

The company has sent letters to eight workers over the course of the strike telling them that they have been “permanently replaced.” The firings have illegally targeted union activists. The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating charges related to the firings.

“John Catsimatidis is New York’s Ebenezer Scrooge,” said Demos Demopoulos, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 553. “He got rich by underpaying working people and has turned his back on their suffering during this strike. He has an opportunity to salvage his reputation by doing what’s right for his workers this Christmas.”

UMEC terminal workers, fleet mechanics, and service technicians voted to join Teamsters Local 553 in February 2019, but Catsimatidis dragged out negotiations for a first contract for two years, precipitating the strike. While other unionized fuel terminals in New York City pay good wages and provide quality benefits, UMEC has for years undercut those wages and only offered an expensive health plan that is not accepted by many doctors.

In November, the New York City Comptroller opened an investigation into complaints that United Metro Energy has not paid workers the prevailing wage when delivering heating oil to City buildings.

The oil terminal distributes heating oil to New York City schools and hospitals, as well as fuel to area gas stations.