New York, NY - Workers at the 63rd Street location of Hot and Crusty restaurant voted May 23 to certify an independent union, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association, with 20 of 22 eligible employees submitting their vote at the National Labor Relations Board.
After a four-month public campaign to bring attention to injustices in the workplace, workers were overjoyed by news of their victory. Documenting widespread labor violations spanning six years, including overtime and minimum wage violations, non-compliance with health and safety codes and sexual harassment and verbal abuse of female employees, workers began organizing their campaign after approaching the grassroots community organization Laundry Workers Center United to assist them in their efforts.
After many attempts by the workers to reach a reasonable agreement with the company, parties came to an impasse when management refused to negotiate in good faith over terms and conditions of employment. Responding to the employers’ threat that “structural changes within the workplace would not happen without a union,” the workers formed an independent labor organization and filed a petition for certification with the National Labor Relations Board.
Using provisions of New York State’s newly enacted Wage Theft Prevention Act, championed by community organizations and State Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn), a civil lawsuit was simultaneously filed for overtime and minimum wage violations, as well as liquidated damages. Gene Eisner of Eisner and Mirer, P.C, counsel to the workers, emphasized the importance of the Act’s “stiffened penalties, liquidated damages and critical protections for the undocumented in reclaiming what is rightfully owed to these hardworking individuals.”
Applauding the workers’ resolve in rejecting settlement offers that failed to address continued violations in the workplace, Laundry Workers Center Founder Virgilio Aran said, “This was a struggle completely led by the workers and the decisions were made collectively to address structural issues that many immigrant workers in this country face. We have all learned a great deal from their courage and determination to organize.”
Mahoma Lopez, a leader in the campaign who has worked at Hot and Crusty for over seven years, stressed the importance of workers coming together in their workplace to stand up against injustice, saying, “This is a victory for us all, particularly for immigrant workers. We have shown the bosses that, when we organize, there is no stopping us. When we come together, we are strong.”
The company has responded to the workers’ organizing efforts with threats, intimidation and offers of monetary compensation, all of which are unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act. Workers at other Hot and Crusty locations have since come forward with similar wage and hour violations, which are currently being investigated. Recently the company, in response to the success of the organizing of the Laundry Workers Center, hired a union-busting firm and tried to stop workers from speaking to the media.