September 9, 2012

Great news! We won one in New York--finally! In front of Hot and Crusty, workers announced yesterday that the new owners of the coffee and pastry shop will recognize their independent union and rehire everyone – yes everyone! An extraordinary agreement allows the union to control the rehiring of the immigrant workforce. No one is to be victimized!

For anyone who has ever been out of work, especially for immigrant workers, this is fantastic news!

The old owner, Mark Sampson, closed the shop at 63rd st and 2 avenue on Friday, Aug. 31st and locked out its 23 employees. Some had worked at H&C for a dozen years or more. They were demanding a mere $1 an hour raise when the store closed. It was classic union busting.

Said the Sept. 8 Official Statement from the Laundry Workers Center and the Hot and Crusty Workers Association: "After a workplace occupation, a week of targeted direct action, round-the-clock picketing and an outpouring of community support, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association announced Saturday that it has come to a tentative agreement with the new owners of the Hot and Crusty located at 63rd street and 2nd avenue. The Union announced that the company has agreed to recognize the union immediately and commence negotiations towards a collective bargaining agreement. Workers will return to their jobs in approximately two weeks. Additionally, the union has negotiated the institution of a hiring hall through which all employees must be referred by the Hot and Crusty Workers Association. This is a historic victory for low-wage and immigrant workers and would not have been possible without the grassroots organizing of the Laundry Workers Center and a broad coalition of support, including Occupy Wall Street, various labor unions, workers centers and community-based organizations."

--Nastaran Mohit"

Why were the workers victorious in getting their jobs back? H&C workers, organized by the Laundry Workers Center, refused to play by the rules created by the boss class--basically the one that says negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

Immediately after being locked out on Friday, Aug. 31st, the union set up pickets outside the store at 63rd street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. The next day, the LWC, working with Occupy Wall Street and the participation of the wonderful “Rude Mechanical Orchestra,” organized a rally and an “occupation” of about a dozen supporters. About 6 protestors were arrested and all were released within 24 hours.

Although brief, it showed the boss class that this would be no ordinary struggle. The LWC knew that relying on politicians wasn’t the way to go. Owner Mark Sampson surely thought that it would be easy to smash a small workforce of immigrant workers. But the racist mindset of Sampson and the other H&C owners was dead wrong.

The LWC set up a coffee and pastry table on the sidewalk next to the store on Monday, Sept. 3, Labor Day. H&C workers called it the “Workers Justice Café” and flyered the neighborhood for its Labor Day grand opening. Neighbors discussed issues with their favorite H&C employees.

A portion of official labor had pledged support, but little in concrete aid was delivered; most importantly of all, the official labor movement was absent from the H&C picket lines. Such a confrontation demands a sharp, immediate response from Labor!

However, there are underlying reasons for this victory. In addition to the bravery of H&C workers themselves, the union seems to have a lively, democratic internal life that respects worker input. Moreover, the workers and their leadership shunned narrow trade unionism and took on immigrant rights issues. It sought alliances with community groups, radicals and the OWS Labor Alliance, particularly the Immigrant Worker Justice group and the OWS Labor Outreach Committee. It did not rely on politicians.

Said Mahoma, a H&C worker, “If you play by the rules, you’ll loose!”

As proof (according to one source) the new H&C buyer asked the LWC attorney, “What would it take to get rid of the pickets? I can’t make money like this.”

Basically, replied the LWC, according to the source, restoring all of the workers' jobs and implementing agreed-upon rights. The deal was done.

But the battle isn’t over yet. H&C workers, who make near the minimum wage on average, still need a raise. That may take a fight. Supporters must build solidarity and try harder to get the major unions and the CLC to mobilize. A good start I think is that supporters got the go-ahead from the LWC to form a solidarity committee.

What’s next? It is thought that the new owner will re-open in about two weeks. Will we maintain pickets at H&C until every worker is back? What about picketing the other H&C locations?

There’s more news to come from the LWC. Stay tuned!

PS LABOR PARADE: Two H&C workers marched with an LWC banner in the TWU contingent. I happened to bump into them at the TWU contingent. It was late already when they arrived so walking down to 42nd to join the PSC/LOC contingent risked missing the march. Unfortunately, Argilio had to leave for a personal matter. I got TWU President Samuelson to officially greet the H&C workers and OK their banner in the TWU contingent. Later, one expensively dressed NYCLC official-looking guy challenged the LWC presence but I referred him to Samuelson. He gave up.

For background, see "Struggle Erupts at Hot and Crusty":