THIS Is What Happens When Immigrant Bakery Workers Organize and Form a Union

Mahoma Lopez and his mostly immigrant co-workers at the Hot & Crusty Bakery on 63rd St. and Second Ave. in Manhattan have a collective bargaining agreement that includes wage standards, vacations, sick days and more. But organizing their independent union and winning that contract was a struggle as a new “Op-Doc” video on The New York Times website shows.

Brooklyn filmmakers Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick excerpted the footage from their upcoming feature documentary, “The Hands That Feed,” on immigrant and low-wage workers. They met Lopez, who came from Mexico when he was 18 years old, while filming.

Lopez explains how many employers—including the then-owners of that Hot & Crusty location—abuse their immigrant workers and get away with it.

The managers think they have the right to insult you. They want to run their business and don’t care if the worker gets a break or if you’ve been working 10, 11, 12 hours. You call in sick the next day and you’re fired. They hire you knowing your status and when they can exploit you, there is no problem. When you ask to be paid at least the minimum wage, they threaten to call immigration.

After the workers formed their union in 2012 and the employer refused to negotiate and locked out the workers, a two-month battle began. The workers picketed and demonstrated outside the store every day and formed an alliance with the Occupy Wall Street activists who even joined an “Occupy the Bakery” action.

In October, new investors bought the bakery and signed contract with the locked-out workers. Now, says Lopez:

The conditions are totally different. It’s like night and day.

Say Lears and Blotnick:

In the early 20th century, immigrants were at the forefront of the labor movement that helped build our middle class. Today, when the fastest growing job sectors are retail and food preparation, the struggles of low-income workers and their families matter more than ever. Turning these jobs into living-wage jobs while fixing our broken immigration system would lift millions out of poverty and benefit our entire economy by increasing consumption and tax revenue.

Click here to see the Op-Doc.