By Bill Parry
A group of 50 workers and their advocates from immigrant rights groups rallied outside the Tom Cat Bakery in Long Island City Wednesday morning to protest the threatened mass firings of dozens of immigrant workers following a U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigation.
As members of a non-profit organization called Brandworkers, the protesting workers decided to stand united and call for resistance from around the country after Tom Cat officials told workers late last week that the DHS had been investigating the company. Nearly 30 of them were told they would be fired — with no severance — within 10 business days if they did not provide new employment documents proving they are in the United States legally.
“We work hard, pay taxes and have given so much to make Tom Cat into a hugely successful company,” worker Sabino Milian said. “We refuse to be thrown away like the bakery’s garbage, and we will advance forward together.”
At Wednesday’s protest, workers demanded the company stick up for its employees rather than cower to the Trump administration’s bullying. Workers called on management to cooperate with them to explore challenges to the DHS investigation.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) vowed to support the workers in the face of the Trump administration clampdown on the LIC bakery in his district.
“I am inspired by the bravery of these hardworking, taxpaying members of our community who stood up, with the risk of arrest and deportation, to fight back against Trump’s hate-driven campaign to tear families apart,” Van Bramer said.
Through the Brandworkers network, Tom Cat employees are also calling on fellow workers around the country, particularly immigrants, indigenous people, African Americans and other marginalized communities to rise with them, culminating in a general strike May 1.
“We risked a lot to come to this country in order to make a better life for our kids,” worker Librada Antigua said. “The Trump administration may want us to disappear, but I’m not leaving my children for anything. Our unity is strength, and our commitment is to victory.”
Since 2011, workers at Tom Cat have been organizing with Brandworkers, a non-profit organization that brings food manufacturing workers together to fight for good jobs and a sustainable food system. By joining together and taking direct action, the workers ousted an abusive executive, ended a system in which they were paid less through a sham company, fought off cuts to their benefits and won a settlement against retaliation, according to Brandworkers organizers.
The workers are represented by attorneys with Catholic Migration Services and the Urban Justice Center — Community Development Project.
“Tom Cat has a golden opportunity to act responsibly and stand up to President Trump’s harsh immigration policies,” National Employment Law Project Director of Strategic Partnerships Haeyoung Yoon said. “The company can and should be a leader by doing all it can within the bounds of the law to protect its workers who have baked and delivered their bread and built their company.
Tom Cat Bakery began in a garage in 1987 and now occupies an entire city block beneath the Queensboro Bridge at 43-05 10th St., providing artisanal bread to restaurants such as Citarella, Darden Restaurants and the Grand Hyatt, among other companies.
A woman answering the phone at the bakery said no one was available from the company to answer any questions.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr