New York City – After a two-month campaign to protest the August 31 closing of the Hot and Crusty restaurant/bakery on 63rd Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan, workers announced that they have come to an agreement with the new ownership of the store, following several weeks of negotiations with investors Anthony Illuzzi and David Kaye. They will return to the job under a new collective bargaining agreement that provides for union recognition and a union hiring hall, paid vacation and sick time, wage increases, seniority, and grievance and arbitration procedures. Widely regarded as a precedent-setting contract for the restaurant industry, the agreement was enthusiastically welcomed by the union that the employees established earlier this year, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association.
The Laundry Workers Center, which trained and supported the workers over an 11-month organizing campaign, applauded the victory, stating: “It has been demonstrated through this campaign that immigrant workers can effect concrete changes when they are trained to lead their own struggles. This is a great victory for the workers and we at the Laundry Workers Center are eager to build on this momentum within our other campaigns.” Eugene Eisner of Eisner and Mirer P.C., the firm representing the union, emphasized the historic nature of the accord, saying: “This kind of agreement is virtually unheard of for low-wage foreign-born workers in the restaurant industry. These workers should be incredibly proud of their determination to stand up to the employers’ threats not to reopen, and to have ultimately achieved all of their demands.”
The Hot and Crusty workers received an outpouring of support over the course of the 55-day picket, including thousands of signatures from Upper East Side community members, daily participation by Hunter College faculty and students, messages of solidarity from supporters around the country, including dozens of labor organizations. Workers welcomed over 100 labor, community and Occupy Wall Street supporters to a “Labor/Immigrant Rights Rally in Solidarity with the Hot and Crusty Workers” held on October 18 at the 63rd Street location. Representatives from some of New York’s largest and most powerful unions were among those addressing the crowd, which included activists from TWU Local 100 (MTA workers), CWA Local 1101 (Verizon workers), Utility Workers Local 1-2 (Con Ed workers), UFCW Local 1500 (supermarket workers), city workers’ AFSCME DC 37, UNITE HERE, Laborers Local 78, PSC-CUNY, UFT, Workers United, ROC-NY and Jornaleros Unidos.
Mahoma López, who has worked at Hot and Crusty for over seven years, said: “The workers are feeling really excited about this news because this is more than just a contract for us. We are putting an example out there for other workers, and other immigrant workers, that anything is possible when you organize. We want others to take this victory to their own workplaces so we can make change in this country.”
Hot and Crusty employees worked for years under unsafe conditions for sub-minimum wages and zero overtime, with some working upwards of 70 hours a week. Verbal abuse and harassment were rampant in the workplace, spawning an organizing drive that went public on January 21, 2012. In May, employees voted in their own independent union, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association, in elections that were certified on June 1. The daily picket began on August 31, when the store’s previous owners announced they would close it in the wake of the successful union election – a move the union alleged to be a retaliatory effort to avoid collective bargaining.