Agreement with borough president seeks to answer critics
Responding to intense criticism from South Bronx residents and organizations over the deal to subsidize a new facility in Port Morris for FreshDirect, the online grocer has promised to seek out Bronx residents for new jobs, to expand its service to the Bronx and to build a non-polluting fleet of delivery trucks.
Announced the day before critics were to rally in a downtown protest, the company signed an agreement with the Bronx borough president’s office and the Bronx Overall Economic Deveolpment Corporation that includes a promises to intensify efforts to train and hire Bronx residents for the 620 new jobs the company says it will be filling over the next eight years. It sets a target of 30 percent of non-union hires for Bronx residents.
In answer to concerns about air pollution from increased truck traffic to and from the FreshDirect facility, to be constructed on a 16-acre site in the Harlem River Rail Yard, the company promises to have a 100 percent “green fleet” within five years.
By June, the company will meet with the borough president to discuss plans for expanding its delivery service in the Bronx, where it currently serves only Riverdale and Woodlawn. The agreement promises that the South Bronx will be included in the expansion plan.
While the agreement sets targets for employment and milestones for fulfilling its promises, it does not set aside jobs for local residents. FreshDirect agrees to seek out “qualified unemployed persons in the Bronx.” The economic development corporation, in turn, will hold training programs and job fairs to prepare and recruit workers.
“These are all just promises,” said Bettina Damiani of the watchdog organization GoodJobsNY. “The lack of accountability is extraordinary.”
Under the terms of the agreement, FreshDirect promises to report annually to the borough president and the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation on its progress.
To enforce the agreement, the memorandum says that if FreshDirect fails to live up to its terms, Bronx officials may withdraw their financial support for the move to Port Morris. The borough president and economic development corporation have pledged $1.5 million in grants and a $3 million loan.
The $123.3 million package of grants, loans and tax credits pledged by the city and state to induce the company to remain in New York City rather than move to New Jersey are not affected by the agreement.
The memorandum of understanding does not address concerns that the lease of the parcel in the rail yard to Fresh Direct will interfere with plans to connect the South Bronx Greenway to Randall’s Island. Construction of the pedestrian bridge had been scheduled to begin at the end of this year.
Calling FreshDirect’s decision to remain in New York “a win-win for everyone,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said “we have come to an agreement with the company that will ensure their commitment to the Bronx for decades to come.”