Advocates want assurances local residents will be among the new hires
As Baldor Specialty Foods prepares to expand its facility and add 350 jobs at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, local leaders are concerned that truck traffic will outweigh some of the benefits to the neighborhood, and that many of those jobs will not go to local residents.
In August, the city’s Economic Development Corporation announced the signing of a lease amendment with Baldor, which will allow the produce and specialty food distributor to expand its facility in Hunts Point to 300,000 square feet, from the company’s current 193,000-square-foot operation. According to a press release, Baldor will spend $20 million of its own money in the expansion.
Baldor initially started as a wholesale division of Balducci’s Produce, then branched out on its own in 1991. Today, the company is considered one of the largest importers and distributors of fresh produce and specialty foods in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.
“This expansion solidifies our Bronx location as the headquarters of Baldor Specialty Foods,” said TJ Murphy, owner and CEO of Baldor, in a press release. “We are proud to make this investment in the Bronx, to strengthen our commitment to Hunts Point, and to continue to be a strong supporter of the area’s overall economic development.”
A spokesman for the NYCEDC, Ian Fried, explained that new jobs at Baldor will be in what the company calls its “fresh cuts” division – where products are pre-washed, trimmed and cut by either specifically designed machines or by hand – as well as warehousing. He added that the company will use the city’s new HireNYC program to target local residents for the job openings, and that the average wage will be $19 an hour.
“Fifty-five percent of Baldor employees are residents of the Bronx and over 85 percent are residents of New York State,” Fried said. “So it is very important to them and to us that the jobs stay here in New York City.”
HireNYC is a city program that provides job access to New York City residents whose income is below twice the federal poverty level, or $23,000 for a single person and $48,000 for a family of four. The program screens potential employees, and the companies who participate in the program then aim to fill at least 50 percent of openings from that pool, retain those employees for at least nine months and advance some of them to higher paid positions within a year.
The city will work in partnership with the Bronx Workforce1 Career Center to source and screen local candidates for the available positions. However, while companies are required to participate in HireNYC, there are no penalties if the company chooses not to hire any of the screened candidates.
Local community and union leaders appreciate that many Bronx residents are employed by Baldor; however, Hunts Point’s high unemployment rate is still a serious concern.
“The HireNYC program is new and so this will be our first time working with them,” said Maria Torres, chair of Community Board 2’s economic development committee. “Workforce1 has met with minimal success within this community board.”
Based on the 2012 American Community Survey estimates, the unemployment rate in Hunts Point is 16.4 percent, higher than that of the Bronx as a whole (14.2 percent) and New York City as a whole (10.2 percent).
The expanded facility will require additional deliveries, bringing 85 truck trips into Baldor in both the morning and the afternoon sessions.
In a neighborhood that is already overburdened by the 15,000 trucks that travel in and out of the peninsula on a daily basis, any increase in traffic is detrimental to the health and safety of the community, said Angela Tovar, director of community development at The Point CDC.
But Fried said that Baldor has added more than 25 hybrid electric trucks to its fleet as well as natural gas trucks to decrease air pollution. Additionally, Fried said that the truck trips will take place between 6 and 7 a.m. and 2 to 3 p.m.
“We applaud any company who commits to minimizing vehicle emissions,” Tovar said. “It is our hope that all companies who do business in Hunts Point take steps to pursuing a cleaner, more efficient fleet and will utilize resources that are available for making this transition, such as the DOT’s Hunts Point Clean Truck Program.”
Danny Kane, president of Teamsters Local 202, welcomed the Baldor expansion, but is concerned that workers, who are not unionized, are making far less than the company claims.
Michael Muzyk, president of Baldor, declined to respond to questions about Baldor’s expansion.
“I don’t speak to the press,” he said. “Speak with EDC, they are my landlord.”