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Best Market employees hope Lidl puts women's equality first

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More than 100 women from the United Association for Labor Education rallied alongside Best Market and Lidl employees outside the store’s location in East Meadow on July 30 to address alleged gender inequality in the workplace.

Participants rallied for Lidl to address equity issues associated with the chain grocery store, such as the fact that 26 out of 27 Best Market store managers are men. There are 24 Best Market locations on Long Island. In 2017, workers formed a Facebook group called “Do Better Best Market” to advocate for better working conditions. Gender equality was recently added to the list of demands.

Earlier this year, Lidl U.S., the American company of German-based grocer, Lidl, bought 27 stores in New York and New Jersey, including the Best Market in Bethpage, which will be the first store converted in to a Lidl grocer. As part of the purchase, all Best Market stores, including those in East Meadow and Merrick, will also turnover to Lidl by 2020.

Best Market employees were able to elevate their voices with the help of local union leaders and members of the UALE Northeast Summer School for Women in Unions and Worker Organizations, a five-day residential program at Hofstra University.

One of these women was Wendy Douglas, who said she is concerned with the plans Lidl has on Long Island. Douglas said, "They told some workers their hours will be cut, but who can work on a part-time salary? I know I can't." She said cutting hours for Lidl workers is not fair to Long Island families.

Douglas insisted that this is not the way Long Island workers should be treated and that others should join her in telling Lidl that these conditions are not acceptable in 2019.

Ashley, a full-time worker at the Best Market in Selden, planned on attending the rally, but was then called in to work a ten-hour shift. Protestors read from a speech she wrote, which delineated her experience working at Best Market.

Ashley, a mother of four, wrote that she struggles each day with her current wage, and cannot afford to house her family under one roof. “As a result, it feels like we can’t be a family,” she wrote. “We aren’t asking for the world, only for an equal opportunity to advance our careers and improve our lives. That’s what we deserve and that is what Long Island deserves too.”

Workers added that they were upset about hours being cut, and newer employees making more money than longtime ones, said Jill Cooley, a three-year full-time assistant baker at a Best Market in Queens.

Before Best Market, Cooley worked at Pathmark for 26 years, where employees are unionized, unlike Best Market. “I know both sides of the story and it is terrible not having a union now,” she said. “The wages we make [are] way under the scale.”

Cooley’s co-workers, who have been working for Best Market for more than 10 years, recently received a wage bump under the Minimum Wage Act, which requires small employers in New York City to pay their employees $15 an hour. In areas like Long Island and Westchester, the law mandates a $13 an hour minimum wage.

Employees also wrote a letter to Lidl to ask the company to immediately increase opportunities for women that would provide Best Market workers with stable schedules and living wages.

Supporting the protesters was State Senator John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, who said, “Companies need to make sure that their workers can afford to live in the same neighborhood that they work in.”

Best Market currently employs about 2,500 people, and Lidl plans to offer employment with equal or better pay and benefits for all workers who were employed at the time of the purchase in January, said Lidl spokesman William Harwood. “About half of the store managers at Lidl’s 67 U.S. stores, excluding Best Market, are women,” he added.