Grocery Baggers, Some Unpaid, Win $300,000 From Supermarkets

Six New York City supermarkets have agreed to pay some $300,000 to baggers who worked in their stores for tips only and no base pay, the state Department of Labor announced yesterday.

The supermarkets, located in low-income neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, include a Key Food on Myrtle Avenue near the Fort Greene/Bedford-Stuyvesant border, and a C-Town in the Norwood section of the Bronx. The largest settlement was reached with a Pioneer Supermarket in East New York, which must pay $160,000 to 12 baggers.

In many of the cases, the settlements were reached because the stores treated the baggers as volunteers and didn't pay them any salary at all. However, in some cases, such as Pioneer, markets were fined because even though they paid their workers, the amount was below minimum wage (less than $7.15 an hour), or they failed to pay overtime.

According to Andrew Friedman, the co-director of Make the Road, a community-based organization that pointed out some of the shady supermarkets to the Department of Labor, the baggers were pulling in between $200-400 a week, making for what he called a "very tight budget."

Besides packing groceries, many of the workers also made deliveries or did other tasks assigned to them by actual supermarket employees. For an account of what it's like to bag groceries for tips read here (keeping in mind that for this guy, the tips are a supplement to his income, not its only source).

In addition to the six settlements announced yesterday, two more markets currently under investigation by the DOL owe a combined $400,000 -- which still kind of seems like chump change compared to the $3 million settlement Gristedes had to pay in 2003 for paying some of its delivery men just over a $1 an hour.

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