Seven facts Ginia Bellafante missed about the Tom Cat Bakery workers’ campaign because she didn’t talk with workers
On October 26, 2018, the New York Times ran a column by Ginia Bellafante about Tom Cat Bakery workers fired in the wake of an ICE audit at the factory in early 2017. Since the audit, workers have been organizing to win immigrant worker protections in the factory and a dignified severance. Unfortunately, Bellafante did not talk with any of the workers impacted by the audit and, as a result, the column is rife with factual errors. The column came after an October 16 event launching the new cookbook of Matt and Emily Hyland, the owners of four NYC restaurants that serve Tom Cat bread. For months, Tom Cat Bakery workers have attempted to talk with the Hylands to seek their support in temporarily suspending purchases from the bakery and have consistently been rebuffed. Unable to secure a meeting directly, Tom Cat Bakery workers decided to address them directly at the book launch event. After listening to their presentation and waiting for the open Q&A, Elias Rojas, one of the workers impacted by the ICE audit, asked for their support.
What Elias has to say (and what the NYT has chosen not to print)To the Editor: My name is Elias Rojas. I’m a former Tom Cat Bakery worker affected by the 2017 Immigration and Customs Enforcement I-9 audit at the bakery. In “How a Hugely Popular Pretzel Bun Became a Political Minefield,” Ginia Bellafante describes the “rage” of “well-meaning advocates” calling on Emily restaurant to stop serving Tom Cat Bakery products. “Rage” isn’t the word immigrants most associate with ICE’s actions, however, it’s “terror.” Tom Cat’s decision to hide the audit for months led to real terror, which rippled throughout our workplace, our neighborhoods and the lives of our families. Demonstrations, like ours at Greenlight, have made real changes in the lives of marginalized people throughout history. Our demands are simple: that Tom Cat adopt common sense policies to protect immigrant workers and pay a just and dignified severance for workers affected by the audit. These could be easily implemented by Tom Cat today, if they choose to listen to our voice. Until then, we’re going to keep organizing to demand justice for ourselves and for immigrant workers across NYC.
1. “Immigration activists had planted themselves in the audience to question the couple about their refusal to stop using the Tom Cat bun in favor of some other.”FACT: After months of efforts to set up a private meeting with the restaurant owners, Elias Rojas, a 12-year Tom Cat Bakery worker directly impacted by the audit, spoke from his first hand experience and asked for the Hyland’s support. Community members followed up when his question was dismissed as inappropriate.
2. “…the company offered a severance package that included one week’s pay for every year of service, full salary for unused vacation and sick days and three months of continued health benefits.”FACT: The company only met with the impacted workers after the workers organized a protest in front of the factory. When workers rejected the company’s initial offer, the company abruptly cancelled further negotiations. Workers impacted by the I-9 audit are demanding that the company return to negotiations as promised.
3. “Still, a boycott was put up for a vote, and [Park Slope Food Coop] members voted against it.”FACT: A majority of Park Slope Food Coop members did vote, by a 60 to 40 margin, to stop selling Tom Cat bread until immigrant worker protection policies are implemented. The Coop continues to sell the bread because it singles out proposals to drop products with a 75% supermajority requirement.
4. “…Mr. Holt sought to find out what companies followed these guidelines, he told me, he could not find any.”FACT: Well over one hundred thousand workers in New York City are employed by companies that have accepted audit protections, for example, workers in the hotel and building service industries.
5. “The State of California has signed some of the recommended protections into law but the statute has been subject to legal challenge.” “Adopting the policies would be largely symbolic…”FACT: Audit notification, the key issue in Tom Cat’s misconduct, is fully operational in California because a federal judge ruled in its favor. Workers and attorneys are already reporting the positive impact of the law. In one case, workers were able to save their jobs outright after prompt audit notification allowed them to challenge ICE’s erroneous data.
6. “The antipathy directed at Tom Cat would seem to implicate the larger furies around globalism.”FACT: This line is completely wrong. Ms. Bellafante has it exactly opposite: the anti-globalist politicians and the corporations complicit with them have our immigrant community under attack. We’re part of the movement fighting back and we’re proud to do so with our Japanese labor and food justice allies who led a delegation to corporate headquarters on our behalf.
7. “…Mr. Hyland was in fact going to acquiesce and start using another bread supplier until the activists kept showing up at his restaurants and at his reading at Greenlight.”FACT: Workers’ letters and phone calls went unheeded for months until the protest. The proof is in the pudding—or in the pretzel bun, as it turns out.