NYC Essential Workers on Strike Against Low Wages at Billionaire Catsimatidis’ Oil Company
Striking workers at United Metro Energy Corp. (UMEC) rallied today alongside other Teamster locals for fair wages and benefits. The two dozen essential workers have provided gasoline, diesel, and heating oil to New York throughout the pandemic, despite being paid wages as much as 50% lower than paid at other city oil companies.
“We are here fighting for workers at United Metro Energy to receive the standard wages and benefits for fuel workers in New York City,” said Demos P. Demopoulos, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 553. “These workers are standing strong for a fair contract, and they have 120,000 other Teamster members in New York City standing behind them.”
UMEC terminal workers, fleet mechanics, and service technicians voted to join Teamsters Local 553 in February 2019, but the company has dragged out negotiations for a first contract.
UMEC is owned by billionaire John Catsimatidis. While other unionized fuel terminals in New York City pay good wages and provide quality benefits, UMEC and Catsimatidis have for years undercut those wages and only offered a health plan that is expensive for workers and is not accepted by many doctors. In retaliation for the strike, the company began firing workers, telling them that they are being permanently replaced.
“We are fighting for better wages and better benefits, so our families can live a better life,” said Andre Soleyn, one of the fired workers, who has been a terminal operator at UMEC for five years. “I have three daughters, two of them in college. I want them to have everything they need, and not have to worry about whether we can afford it.”
The oil terminal distributes heating oil to New York City schools, hospitals, and the MTA, as well as fuel to area gas stations. Workers have been on strike since April 19, 2021, hampering the facility’s operations.
“I am a single father of two, and we are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Ramesh Hardowar, who has worked as a service technician and installer for 14 years at UMEC. “I want to be able to save for my family and have quality healthcare so I know that they are safe.”
“These immigrant workers came to New York City for the American Dream, but instead they are being taken advantage of,” said Demopoulos. “New York is a sanctuary city and we should demand that business leaders protect, not exploit, immigrant workers.”