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FreshDirect Encourages Bronx Residents to Apply for 200 New Jobs

By Patrick Wall | October 17, 2012 9:06am

BRONX — FreshDirect will encourage residents of The Bronx, its future home, to apply for 200 new jobs it plans to add over the next three months to keep up with demand, the online grocer said Tuesday.

The company’s planned move to Port Morris by 2015, aided by $130 million in public subsidies, has roiled many locals who fear the impact of a large delivery truck fleet on the environment and residents’ health.

FreshDirect has tried to ease critics’ concerns by touting its green initiatives and detailing potential benefits for The Bronx, such as easier access to healthy food and new jobs.

For this latest round of hiring, the company said it will partner with at least two local leaders to inform Bronx residents of the jobs and urge them to apply.

“In anticipation of our move to The Bronx, we want to be sure Bronx residents fill many of these positions and look forward to working with local community leaders to help make that goal a reality,” FreshDirect CEO Jason Ackerman said in a statement Tuesday.

About 75 of the new positions will be warehouse jobs, including sorting, shipping and kitchen work, and about 125 will be transportation positions, such as drivers and runners, the company said.

The average wage for hourly workers is about $12, not including benefits or tips, though starting pay for warehouse workers is $8.50 an hour, according to testimony at a city subsidy hearing in February by Larry Hickey, FreshDirect’s senior vice president of business affairs and general counsel.

Benefits, which begin after six months, include subsidized health care, annual bonuses, paid lunch break and product discounts, Hickey said.

One of the community leaders who agreed to help recruit Bronx residents for the new jobs is Steve Ritz, an administrator at Hyde Leadership Charter School in Hunts Point and the founder of Green Bronx Machine, a youth-oriented nonprofit focused on urban farming and green-jobs training.

Ritz said he took critics’ concerns about FreshDirect seriously, but decided the company’s green initiatives — such as buying some electric trucks and promising to switch to a clean-energy fuel — would mitigate some of the environmental and health risks.

He also said a pilot program that allows some Bronx residents to place online FreshDirect orders using food stamps and especially the “entry-level living-wage jobs” would benefit the community.

“The promise of 200 jobs is definitely exciting,” Ritz said. “It’s going to impact families immediately.”

Nearly 500 of FreshDirect’s 2,400 current employees live in The Bronx, according to the company.

It has vowed to create up to 1,000 new jobs when its new Bronx facility opens. At least 30 percent of the new non-union jobs will go to Bronx residents, according to an agreement FreshDirect made with the Bronx borough president’s office in exchange for a loan and grant package.

FreshDirect critics have questioned the company’s hiring promises and pointed out its past labor disputes.

A coalition of Bronx residents and activists called South Bronx Unite! disrupted the company’s subsidy hearing, called for a FreshDirect boycott and filed a lawsuit to block the move to the South Bronx, claiming the delivery truck fleet would worsen the area’s asthma rate, which is eight times the national average.