By MARTY GOODMAN
NEW YORK—Braving union-busting layoffs and retribution, workers at Brod Kitchen (formerly Hot and Crusty), located on 63rd St. in the wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan, are fighting to save their union and their jobs.
On Jan. 14, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association, a mostly Hispanic immigrant workforce of 19, entered into negotiations for a new contract. The management of the renamed Brod Kitchen told union reps that Brod would shut its doors the next day, giving lack of funds as the excuse. Later, the layoff threat was extended to 30 days.
A spirited solidarity rally of up to 200 unionists and activists was held Jan. 29 at Brod’s new non-union Greenwich Village location. A day later, the uptown Brod laid off union President Mahoma Lopez and union activist Marcelino Cano. A second rally on short notice attracted dozens. Then a third worker, Layla Mejilla was fired.
The new downtown Brod location is across the street from the New York University campus, a high-rent area. While the Village café is not formally owned by Hugo Uys, the South African TV chef who owns the 63rd St. location, the uptown workers report that employees have been sent to work there and that an interchange of management personnel exists.
Moreover, Brod is spreading lies against the union by posting a claim in its Village location window that the union is “stealing our jobs.” Signers of the so-called appeal of Brod workers includes the Brod restaurant supervisor! Brod is using the non-union restaurant as a club to bust the union.
The Hot and Crusty Workers Association was born in 2013 as the result of a 55-day struggle to stop layoffs and win a pace-setting contract for restaurant workers, especially immigrant workers. The workers were organized by the Laundry Workers Center (LWC), an independent, democratically run organization (www.lwcu.org).
Their inspiring fight was captured in the award-winning film, “The Hand that Feeds,” by Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick (http://thehandthatfeedsfilm.com).
New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the historic Grand Central Station, has approved a proposal for a high-end restaurant operated by restaurateur Claus Meyer. According to the MTA, Meyer is working with a group of investors represented by Brod Kitchen owner Hugo Uys, who orchestrated the deal. It is set to open in 2016. Is Brod Kitchen too broke to give workers a contract? Hardly!
Recently, immigrant workers won another unionizing victory at B&H, a camera and electronics superstore on 34th St. in Manhattan. B&H warehouse workers, mostly immigrant Hispanics, faced racism, abusive conditions, and long workweeks. On Nov. 4, by a vote of 200 to 88, B&H warehouse workers won unionization with the United Steel Workers, in another hard-won organizing effort spearheaded by the LWC.
Like the Hot and Crusty struggle, B&H solidarity was built with rallies that include the mobilization of the workers themselves, a departure from union rallies organized by bureaucrats.
The struggle against union busting at Brod Kitchen needs support from New York City unions, community, and student groups. So far, transit workers, teachers, domestic workers and campus workers have joined the picket lines. But, unions need to mobilize the ranks. As a speaker from Domestic Workers United said at the end of the picket on Jan. 28, “My struggle is their struggle. Their struggle is my struggle.”
Keep the pressure on! Rehire the fired union workers! Contract now! Union-busting is disgusting!
UPDATE: After this article was written, the Brod management closed both Manhattan restaurants, resulting in lay-offs. We will provide further updates as information becomes available.
Photo: Marty Goodman / Socialist Action