Queens bakery demands that immigrant workers show their papers, or be laid off

Photo via Twitter/Brandworkers

A Long Island City bakery that provides baked goods to restaurants across the city is demanding that its immigrant employees provide work papers because of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) audit.

Tom Cat Bakery, located at 43-05 10th St., sent a letter to 30 of its employees on March 15 to tell them that their I-9 forms were out of date, the Daily News first reported. Employees held a rally outside of the bakery on Wednesday, and many of them have worked at the facility for years.

“It was brought to our attention that documents you provided at the time of hiring in form I-9, does not currently authorize you to work in the United States,” the letter read.“You have 10 business days to provide us with valid documentation and employment eligibility documentation for completing the form I-9, you are considered by the Homeland Security Investigations to be unauthorized to work in the United States.”

Employees were told that they would be fired in 10 days with no severance pay. Brandworkers, a nonprofit that organizes and advocates for food production workers, live-streamed the rally. A Tom Cat Bakery worker said his employer notified him that his last day would be March 28 if he could not provide legal working papers.

“This was devastating news,” he said through an interpreter. “Why? Because I’m a working father and we have to pay bills and we have to put food on the table for our families. And how is that going to happen if in one day you receive news that you’re going to be fired in a couple of days?”

An I-9 audit forces employers to provide documentation to prove that employees can work in the country legally. If they refuse to provide this proof, companies can be hit with large fines or be visited by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) to remove undocumented workers.

“There is no justification of the targeting of these workers,” said Councilman Mark Levine. “The targeting of these workers by ICE runs contrary to our values as New Yorkers, contrary to our values as Americans and contrary to our interest and we will fight this with everything we have.”

A DHS spokesperson referred QNS to ICE, but the agency did not return requests for comment.

“I pay taxes. I work hard. I have a family. Last week, we received a letter asking us for documentation,” said Hector, a 13-year Tom Cat employee. “I think it’s very unfair the way we’re being treated. We’ve given so much to this company. The reason why the company is successful today is because of our hard work.”

Tom Cat Bakery did not return our request for comment. James Rath, the vice president and general manager of Tom Cat told The Village Voice that there was “nothing to report. We are in the middle of a standard HSI [Homeland Security Investigation] documentation audit.”

In 2012, Tom Cat Bakery drivers launched a campaign with the help of Brandworkers to demand “respectful treatment” and affordable healthcare. The employees were able to oust Director of Distribution Walter Knox, who they argued “manipulated work hours, treated workers with contempt, and retaliated against those who dared speak up,” according to the Brandworkers website.

The company was started by Noel Labat-Comess in 1987 and provides more than 400 breads and sweets to “New York’s Four Star restaurants and its most famous hotels and is also used at leading sandwich chains and sold at some of the tri-state area’s premier retailers,” according to its website.