Victory for Immigrant Workers at NYC Cafe
September 11, 2012 10:58 am
By: Matthew McDermott
The conspicuously quiet Occupy movement can now claim integral involvement in a major victory for undocumented workers in New York City.
Twenty-three workers at the Hot and Crusty Cafe in the Upper East Side were locked-out of their job on Friday, August 31st, after winning the right to form a new independent union via a NLRB-sanctioned election and thousands of dollars in backpay. The moneyed owner of the five Hot and Crusty Cafes, Mark Samson, elected to close the organized location rather than deal with the union. Workers and Occupy protestors held a workers’ assembly inside the store, and refused to leave until NYPD arrested six demonstrators and the doors were chained shut.
Workers showed remarkable resilience, gathering at Hot and Crusty on Labor Day to set up a Worker Justice Cafe and serve coffee and bagels for donations, gaining support and signatures from the community. Just four days later, counsel for Hot and Crusty came calling.
On Saturday, Hot and Crusty’s lawyers (who have padded their pockets with a hefty 500k for their anti-union services), signed an agreement agreeing to reopen the store within 15 days, reinstate locked-out workers, hand over control of the hiring process to the union, and recognize the independent union, The Hot and Crusty Workers Association, for all current and future employees. (Recognition for future employees was a sticking point causing workers to reject previous offers — had Samson and management only recognized the union for current employees, future employees would need to prove legal immigration status to join. Most of the workers at Hot and Crusty are undocumented, and company owners, at Hot and Crusty and elsewhere, are using immigration investigation as union-busting ploy — see the Palermo’s strike and boycott).
Workers at the east side Hot & Crusty have been organizing for over a year. After enduring sub-minimum wages and abusive practices, employees began to attend Occupy meetings and to work with the volunteer-driven Laundry Workers Center. Alternet spoke with Ben Dictor, of the Laundry Workers Center, on the dire circumstances workers faced:
Dictor asked Lopez to fill out his yearly schedule as part of the documentation for a series of charges Dictor has filed with the Labor Board against this store. Lopez placed Xs on 360 out of 365 days of the year and wrote the number 10 at the top of the sheet.
“I thought he’d did it wrong,” said Dictor. “But then, through a translator, he told me, no I did it right. I worked 10 hours a day, and those [five Xs] were my days off.”
The Laundry Workers Center provided extensive training in organizing to Hot and Crusty Employees, and the Occupy working group Immigrant Worker Justice staged a number of actions targeting Samson and Praesidian Capital, the private equity group in which Samson is a managing partner. Workers held an election and won representation for their union in May, only to face Samson’s union-busting tactics in late summer. (To clarify, Samson was legally allowed to close the Upper East Side location — his actions would be illegal only if seen as discouraging organizing at other Hot & Crusty locations).
Other unions, such as SEIU 32BJ and Domestic Workers United supported last week’s Worker Justice action, and the choice to open the cafe on the street also served to get the word out to residents and customers. Samson lives in the neighborhood, and many supporters pledged to contact him personally in support of workers.
The Hot & Crusty Workers Association was inspired and aided by Occupy and painstakingly trained by the Laundry Workers Association while receiving verbal support from traditional unions; their ability to combine the tactics of all these organizations yielded a fast result. Organizing efforts are beginning at other Hot & Crusty locations, and workers feel empowered, if wary of further anti-union action. Sometimes David does beat Goliath.
Image from here