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Wobblies at Prominent New York Baking Company Heighten Struggle Against Private Equity Owners

By Lawrence Goun and Biko Koenig

Workers at Tom Cat Bakery sharpened their resistance against company attacks this summer with a solidarity BBQ in front of the Queens-based factory. Tom Cat's private equity owners, Ancor and Merit Capital, are seeking devastating health care cuts and other takeaways from workers in contract negotiations with the Bakery Union. Dual-card IWW members are leading a struggle to build long-term power and secure a good contract, after beating back a de-certification attempt from a mob-dominated union earlier this year.

“These out-of-town investors already have their mansions, while we barely can support our families. The cuts they're demanding are impossible and we're united against them,” said Marino Aquino, a night-shift packer at Tom Cat and a member of the IWW. “Our unity is our strength and we will keep the pressure on until justice prevails.”

What's a solidarity BBQ? Think of a street protest except with pollo guisado instead of picket signs. Workers, along with a diverse set of allies from worker centers, food justice groups, and immigrant rights' organizations, grilled Dominican specialties just opposite the factory entrance. After plenty of eating, people gathered in a large circle for an assembly style speak-out calling on the company to accept a just contract.

“With the company's proposal to gut our health care, cut sick days and vacation time, and get rid of our paid lunch breaks, we'd be out hundreds of dollars a month in money we don't have,” remarked FW Aquino. “But we make the bread, not the investors in Texas and Illinois, and with the IWW we have a global community of allies to help us win.”

The investors' contract demands would force these low-wage workers to pay $300 a month out of their pay for health care; an expense that most workers simply cannot afford. The loss of affordable health insurance would devastate families who depend just as much on the care as they depend on the wages themselves.

Workers with years of experience expressed their frustration over potential cuts to their pay and benefits. One worker discussed how important his time off has become for his life, but with the company's proposal his vacation time would be drastically reduced. Speaking on behalf of the majority of workers who are immigrants and use the time to visit family and friends in their home countries, he pointed out that his hard-earned vacation provides just enough time to travel internationally. Under the proposed vacation limits, important trips to visit family will have to be canceled.

Workers were pleased with their tactical choice at this stage in the campaign because more rich conversations and relationship-building took place than at a traditional picket or rally. Workers at the BBQ and those who saw it on-the-clock were emboldened by the sight of an action with a large group of allies right in front of the facility. One worker who was scared to attend but did take a flyer was subsequently moved to take out a red card and join OBU.

The IWW job shop at Tom Cat has a two and one-half year track record of direct action wins, including the firing of a thirteen year executive who took pleasure in bullying workers. Coming out of the solidarity BBQ, the workers – with support from the non-profit Brandworkers - are energized to defeat the cuts and build on that winning foundation.

The struggle at Tom Cat is part of a larger rising of immigrant Wobblies of color in New York City who are building an IU460 industrial union inspired by the example of Local 8.