Despite the below-freezing wind chill and icy patches on the ground, New Yorkers showed yet another display of endurance as more than 50 people converged in Brooklyn to demand an end to Handyfat Trading Co.’s union-busting activities. In early January, Handyfat management illegally fired nine workers for union activity, despite the company’s claims they were fired because of their immigration status.
Today’s picket and march, organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and Make the Road by Walking /Se Hace Camino Al Andar, proved, as it has on many previous occasions, that workers and their supporters are not backing down from the company’s attempts to repress the movement towards basic wage and hour rights. Beginning at 11 AM, workers and supporting community members picketed outside of Handyfat, then marched down Knickerbocker Ave. to Associated Supermarket, where owners have committed numerous wage violations against their workers.
At the Handyfat Trading Co., workers have been continuously subjected to harsh conditions and discrimination by their employers. In late December, owner Dennis Ho demanded that everyone at Handyfat submit their Employment Eligibility Verification form (I-9 Form) to prove that they are legally entitled to work in the U.S. Shortly after this, nine union workers were fired for failing to submit their forms. In a blatant display of illegal union busting, one worker tried to comply with their demands and was turned away by management. These terminations follow 2006’s strong drive of union organizing at the shop, and workers believe the firings are a direct retaliation for union activity. By law and regardless of immigration status, workers in the United States must be paid the minimum wage and have a right to organize.
“This is horrible–we make him money and now he tosses us into the street like we’re garbage,” commented Pedro Hidalgo Campos, a fired Handyfat union worker.
At Associated Supermarkets, management has failed to pay their workers minimum wage and overtime and some workers have been paid solely in tips with zero benefits. Local community group Make the Road by Walking recently launched a campaign, ¡Despierta Bushwick! (Wake Up Bushwick!), to shed light on the rampant exploitation of immigrant workers in the retail sector. According to the website, the campaign has already pressured multiple employers to pay over $600,000 in back wages to immigrant workers in the community, and has filed a lawsuit to recover at least $1 million in back wages for more than forty workers at Associated, and is also calling for a boycott of the company.
Today’s activities highlighted the growing strength of the unionization campaign at Handyfat, Associated and other Brooklyn companies that put profit before the rights of their workers. A turnout like this on such a cold day shows that this community is united and determined to stop the injustice in our backyard. But our work is nowhere near done, and there will doubtless be many more pickets on many more frigid mornings before we finally see an end to the modern day slavery imposed on our neighbors.