Hot and Crusty Bakery Workers Seal the Deal on Unionization
Back in September, YES! covered the efforts of immigrant
workers at New York City's Hot and Crusty Bakery to form
a union. After a series of twists and turns that tested
the workers' persistence, the shop is now set to open in
December with a fully unionized workforce.
by Olivia Rosane
November 26, 2012
After 55 days on the picket line, the workers of the
Manhattan restaurant and bakery Hot and Crusty
celebrated a precedent-making collective bargaining
agreement at a rally and press conference Friday,
November 16. The agreement includes wage increases, paid
vacation and sick days, grievance and arbitration
procedures, and a union hiring hall.
In May the workers voted to form a union, the Hot and
Crusty Workers Association, after enduring years of wage
theft, unsafe conditions, and verbal harassment from
managers. Instead of recognizing the union, however, the
restaurant's former owners shut the store down on August
31, prompting nearly two months of protest that the
current agreement brings to an end.
The agreement, which the union's lawyer Eugene Eisner
calls "unheard-of for low-wage, foreign-born workers in
the restaurant industry," was officially announced on
October 26. It includes wage increases, paid vacation
and sick days, grievance and arbitration procedures, and
a union hiring hall.
The store's owners have promised that the restaurant,
located at 63rd Street and 2nd Avenue, will reopen under
the new agreement on December 17. The rocky road to a
The victory shows the importance of persistence. The
situation looked too good to be true when, only a week
after the store's closure, new investors Anthony Illuzi
and David Kaye stepped in and entered into a tentative
agreement with the union. And sure enough, the agreement
was soon in jeopardy. Workers at a Brick Oven Pizza on
14th Street, owned by the same group, are also trying to
organize against wage-and-hour violations and verbal
First, the week of September 17, the Hot and Crusty
Workers Association learned that the building's new
owners were considering leasing the space to Pax
Wholesome Foods, a non-union chain. So the union and its
supporters sent a petition to the owners letting them
know a Pax opening would be met with constant protests.
Once it became clear that the landlord had signed a
lease with Illuzzi and Kaye, however, the new owners
turned around and pressured the union to give up some of
its demands in exchange for a return to work. "We have
suspicions that they were really banking on the workers
exhausting their resources and their will to stay on the
picket line," said Nastaran Mohit of the Laundry Workers
Center, which trained and supported the workers
throughout the campaign.
If that was the case, they banked wrong. "I've never
worked with a group of workers this conscientious,"
In addition to maintaining their picket, workers
increased pressure by marching outside of other New York
restaurants owned by the group of investors that
originally backed the 63rd Street Hot and Crusty, but
had withdrawn after the unionization drive. Workers at a
Brick Oven Pizza on 14th Street, owned by the same
group, are also trying to organize against wage-and-hour
violations and verbal abuse. The investors tried to use
Hot and Crusty's temporary closure to deter workers
there, threatening that if workers unionized, they also
might lose their jobs.
"We knew they had a huge investment in how the 63rd
Street unionization drive turned out," Mohit said. That
made it even more important to keep the pressure on and
show them that the workers would not be intimidated.
The union also demonstrated the depth of community
support at an October 18 solidarity rally that drew 100
people, including representatives from major New York
unions such as TWU and UNITE HERE. Education strategy
The Hot and Crusty win is also a win for the Laundry
Workers Center, which trained and supported the workers,
and an endorsement of their strategy of educating
immigrant workers to lead their own struggles. The LWC
is returning to its mission of organizing the underpaid
immigrant staffs of the city's Laundromats, a campaign
that has not yet gone public. But organizer Rosanna
Rodriguez said it would apply the lessons of the Hot and
Crusty struggle in the future, namely the importance of
Hot Crusty Workers555.jpg Labor Victory's Lessons for
Occupy A group of immigrant workers in Manhattan win a
union for themselves, partly through collaboration with
Occupy Wall Street.
The future was on everyone's lips at Friday's press
conference. "Today we are here supporting the Hot and
Crusty workers, but tomorrow we support another
campaign," Hot and Crusty worker and organizer Mahoma
López Garfias said.
Representatives from TWU Local 100, UNITE HERE, Occupy
Wall Street's Labor Outreach Council, Hunter College,
and Golden Farm workers represented this victory as a
springboard for other struggles, including the Wal-Mart
protests planned for Black Friday.
"This is a beginning," Christine Williams of TWU Local
Community members also rejoiced. Richard Rosenthal, who
lives in the building above Hot and Crusty, said he had
written to the landlord to express his delight that the
space had been leased to a unionized business.
The Hot and Crusty Workers Association has proved that
with a combination of direct action, community support,
and persistence, the most vulnerable workers in our
country can win justice.
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