By Bill Parry
Two highly rated Manhattan restaurants, The Spotted Pig and Le Bernadin. have halted purchases from Long Island City-based Tom Cat Bakery in response to a call from current and former workers demanding the company adopt simple protections and fair severance for 20 immigrant workers fired in April. The immigrants were terminated when they could not produce adequate working documents after Tom Cat Bakery management had been subjected to an audit by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
As members of a non-profit organization called Brandworkers, the fired workers decided to reach out to the bakery’s customers after they claimed the company failed to keep its commitment to negotiate with workers in the wake of the audit. The workers, many of whom had well over a decade of experience at the artisanal bakery, located at 43-05 10th St., are continuing their campaign for justice.
“We are asking Tom Cat’s customers to stop buying their bread until Tom Cat listens to the demands of the workers who were fired during the audit,” Bulmaro Cruz, a Brandworkers member who had worked at the bakery for 18 years, said.
Tom Cat Bakery maintains it had no choice but to terminate the workers in April and they say severance pay was provided.
“While we could not legally resist the Department of Homeland Security and its random audit of our business and employee records, we were determined to do all that we could to help our employees,” Tom Cat Bakery management said in a statement. “In the wake of the audit we sat down with their union, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 53 — which has represented our employees for more than a decade — and together came up with a severance offer that included everything the union asked for.”
Following a letter-writing campaign by the terminated workers, Le Bernadin, an old guard French restaurant became the first customer to stop buying from the bakery in September. The Spotted Pig, a West Village mainstay, followed last month and the workers began a dialogue with the Jean-Georges restaurant, at Columbus Circle, which is currently deciding if it will support the workers.
“What motivated us to come together was we knew what the company was doing was completely unjust,” said Hector Solis, who worked at the bakery for more than 12 years. “We started to fight back, not just for us, but for everyone who has been in such an unjust situation. Even though Tom Cat hasn’t returned to the table, we are going to continue with our struggle. We won’t stop until we get a victory.”
The Spotted Pig’s decision to support the Tom Cat workers continues the company’s engagement with social justice work in the city.
“By supporting the Tom Cat workers, The Spotted Pig once again shines as a leader in the movement for restaurants free from hate and discrimination,” Restaurant Opportunities of New York Director Catherine Barnett said. “In responding to the call of immigrant workers, The Spotted Pig not only exemplifies the principals of a Sanctuary Restaurant, but reflects the values of New York City restaurant diners who oppose the anti-immigrant actions taking place across the country.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr