Tom Cat Bakery workers protest at Trump Tower

Tom Cat Bakery workers protest at Trump Tower
Photo by Bill Parry
By Bill Parry

Hundreds of supporters and advocates joined the 31 employees of the Long Island City-based Tom Cat Bakery as they rallied Saturday outside Trump Tower in Manhattan, protesting the White House’s clampdown on immigration.

The immigrant workers have been threatened with a mass termination April 21 after a U.S. Department of Homeland Security audit identified them as lacking legal authorization to work in the United States.

“We work hard, pay taxes and have built Tom Cat into a hugely successful company that helps New York City’s economy strong,” worker Ana Campos said. We refuse to be discarded like stale bread.”

The bakery began in a garage in 1987 and now occupies an entire city block beneath the Queensboro Bridge at 43-05 10th St. It provides artisanal bread to Citarella, Darden Restaurants and the Grand Hyatt, among others, and it is now an arm of Yamazaki Baking, one of the world’s largest multi-national baking companies.

“It made me feel so sad and angry at the same time because I never expected this was going to happen,” Baker Hector Solis, 45, from Mexico City, said. “They said I have to prove I can work in this country.”

Solis said he produced documents showing he was legal when he applied for the job 12 years ago but he admitted they were false. The married father of two children, who are legal, makes $17 an hour.

“I had a heart attack three years ago,” he said. “If I lose my job, I will lose my health benefits. I’ve never had a problem and now they are treating us like criminals.”

Since 2011, employees at Tom Cat have been organizing with Brandworkers, a non-profit which brings food manufacturing workers together to fight for good jobs and a sustainable food system. The workers are represented by attorneys with Catholic Migration Services and the Urban Justice Center.

“What we’re asking of Tom Cat is to be a gold-standard employer here,” Brandworkers Founder and Executive Director Daniel Gross said. “And that means cooperating to the fullest, legally and morally, to make sure that their valued workforce is as protected as possible.”

During negotiations last week, Tom Cat agreed to help the workers keep their jobs and secured from DHS an extension on the deadline. The workers were originally told they had to provide documents within 10 working days.

“We have our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to keep as many of the workers as we possibly can in the Tom Cat family,” attorney William Wachtel said. “We’re doing everything we can within the confines of the law.”

Wachtel added that the anger shown towards the Trump administration is misplaced.

“This audit began under the Obama administration, before Trump was president,” Wachtel said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.