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Tentative deal averts strike at New York City's largest produce market

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Workers at New York City's largest wholesale produce market said on Saturday they had reached a tentative contract agreement, putting off a strike that could have disrupted produce supplies to thousands of restaurants.

The members of Teamsters Local 202 who handle produce on the loading platforms and storage facilities at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the South Bronx said they will vote on the tentative labor contract on Jan. 21. Details of the agreement were not immediately available.

"Our members stood strong and the market knew we were serious,"said Daniel Kane, Jr., president of Teamsters Local 202. "We said wedeserved a fair wage, we fought for it,and we got it."

The 1,300 unionized workers have been at odds with management over wage increases and healthcare costs.

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This week, they voted to authorize a strike that could have left restaurants and markets across the region scrambling for deliveries of fresh food. The strike deadline was set to expire at 4 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Sunday.

The market had contingency plans to stay open in case of a walkout, a spokesman said.

The market was to be closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day federal holiday.

"We are happy that both sides were able to come together to reach this tentative agreement which will avoid an unnecessary walkout," market spokesman Robert Leonard told Reuters. "At the end of the day, discussions resulted in a fair package which goes a long way towards addressing the issues raised by management and labor."

Hunts Point, which says it is the world's largest wholesale produce market, supplies about 60 percent of the produce in the New York City metropolitan area, Leonard said.

Its customers primarily are small food markets and greengrocers, along with wholesalers and purveyors that sell produce to restaurants.

Produce arrives at the giant market from around the world by truck, rail, ship and air.

The market's employers are 150 businesses that bargain as a group, the union said.

The union was seeking a wage increase of $5 a day, or $25 a week, in each of the next three years. It said the workers earn $38,000 to $53,000 a year.

The market has offered a weekly wage increase of $16 in the first year and $22 in the second and third years.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and James Dalgleish)

 
 
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