Protesters call H-Mart’s hiring racist


| mchan@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan
THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

An Asian supermarket chain is under fire from a trio of picketers who say the company is not colorblind in its hiring practices.

Jim MacDonald and his two pals, Craig Kinsey and Vincent Middleton, say H-Mart only employs Korean or Chinese cashiers and Hispanic backroom workers at its northeast Queens and Long Island stores. The threesome has been picketing outside the location on Union Street in Flushing since late August.

“It’s unfair to block out other ethnic backgrounds and only hire specific ones,” Kinsey said. “Flushing is a diverse community. If you want to show diversity, put your money where your mouth is. Have some diversity in employment.”

The activists say they’ve toured three H-Mart locations in Flushing and two in Nassau County, only to find a disparity in store workers’ ethnicities.

“We saw no African Americans or white Americans working there,” said Kinsey, who is African-American and lives in Flushing. “It’s not fair because of the consistency of this type of trend in those stores.”

MacDonald, 63, of Flushing — who is white — said H-Mart is considered a standard supermarket and should be held to fair hiring procedures.

“You don’t have to be Korean to shop here,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to be Korean to work here.”

Kenneth Noh, a payroll manager at H-Mart’s corporate headquarters, said the company does not screen employees by race, but by their capabilities. The reason Korean employees dominate the chain’s Flushing stores, he said, is so they can cater to an incredibly large population of residents who do not speak English.

“We operate in supermarkets all across the country,” Noh said, adding that in Queens alone there are four in Flushing, one in Woodside and one opening soon in Bayside. “Each store is so different. It all depends on the customer base.”

But the group — none of whom have ever applied for jobs at H-Mart — said the defense does not justify the lack of diversity in Long Island stores located in Great Neck and Williston Park, which geographically have more English-speaking shoppers.

The incoming Bayside location — home of the shuttered Waldbaum’s at 46-40 Francis Lewis Boulevard — the three say, will also have a large number of English-speaking patrons who will not benefit from store employees who cannot communicate with them.

“It irritates me that there is no hope whatsoever of getting a job at H-Mart if you don’t belong to the two groups they only hire,” MacDonald said. “There’s a sense of injustice there.”