Update: In August 2003, several of the fired workers found new jobs, but the picketing continues every Friday in front of the Assi market.
NCRR sponsored a car wash on January 4 to support 56 workers who were suspended on August 1, 2002, from their jobs at Koreatown's Assi Supermarket. Assi Market owner Daniel Rhee claimed their "indefinite non-disciplinary suspension" was a result of a "no-match" letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) that indicated that certain workers' names and social security numbers did not match. However, the SSA stated that their letter was merely a courtesy notice and not intended to be used in any adverse action against the workers.
Of the 56 placed on suspension, 50 are Latino and 6 are Korean. The suspensions are viewed by the employees as retaliation for efforts to organize the Assi Market workers. In January 2002, Latino worker representatives had filed employment discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), stating that Latino workers were subjected to poorer working conditions than Koreans, faced retaliation and harassment, and received different terms and conditions of employment. They also charged that Latino workers were denied employment due to national origin.
In September 2002, after the suspensions had been implemented, the EEOC ruled that Assi Market had committed massive violations under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The EEOC determined that Latino workers as a class (meaning as a group of approximately 75 Latinos) had been subjected to harassment, different terms and conditions of employment, and retaliation. The ruling also stated that Latino workers, as a class, had been subjected to a hostile work environment and had been denied employment due to their national origin.
According to EEOC procedures, conciliation meetings were to be held to resolve the violations. Each employee of the class (of approximately 75 Latino workers) is entitled to an award of up to $100,000, which could total approximately $7.5 million. However, because Assi Market has failed to participate in the reconciliation meetings, the Immigrant Workers Union is preparing to file a civil lawsuit against the market.
In response to the suspensions, a campaign to boycott Assi Market has been in full force, with daily picket lines in front of the market. NCRR members have participated in the picket lines and have seen the spirit and solidarity of the suspended workers and all their supporters. The boycott and pickets have been successful in educating the public about Assi Market's labor practices and in impacting sales at the market.
However, many of the suspended workers have not been able to secure other employment and are therefore in great financial need. A car wash cooperative has been part of a fundraising campaign to raise $20,000 per month to support workers in rent, food, and emergency medical expenses. A donor pledge program has also been initiated. If you would like to contribute to this campaign, please make checks payable to KIWA Workers Justice Fund, 3465 W. 8th St., Los Angeles, 90005. Community members are also encouraged to join the Friday boycott picket line from 6 to 8 PM in front of Assi Market at 3525 W. 8th St., LA. For more information, please call NCRR at (213) 680-3484.