I’m a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). I worked hard to start the union strong, so that we would be strong in the end. And just like when we started, we’ve grown and become strong. Because in union there is strength.
– Eliezer Maca Gallardo
For a long time I worked different jobs in this country without knowing about the law, unions, and how much my bosses should be paying me. After I joined the IWW I learned about these things and how we can fight back for our rights.
– Son Onn Voon
Warehouse workers in New York City need your help in their fight against employers who have stolen their wages, violated labor laws, and vigorously fought against unionization. These workers have built the IWW I.U. 460/640 against incredible odds, and still stand strong in the face of mass firings. They've shown how immigrant workers can fight sweatshop conditions to build a better future.
The Story at Handyfat
In August of 2005, Pablo Montes and Carlos Hidalgo, workers from Handyfat Trading Corp., attended a meeting of Workers in Action, the labor group at the Bushwick, Brooklyn, community organization Make the Road by Walking. They spoke of terrible working conditions: they worked 60 or more hours for a mere 280 dollars per week (at most $4.66/per hour with no overtime); they had no benefits or sick days, and they were called “dirty Mexicans” and worse by an abusive manager. Afterwards, they agreed to bring their fellow workers to meet with two IWW organizers/Make the Road members, six of whom joined the union. On December 5, 2005, over 50 supporters joined the Handyfat workers in a march to declare their IWW membership and demand that the owner observe the wage and hour law. By the end of the winter, the owner was paying legal wages, and the union had won a minority contract, complete with wage increases, sick days, vacation time, and other perks.
The Story at Sunrise Plus (formerly known as EZ-Supply)
During 2006, the IWW organized workers in four more warehouses, all with similar sweatshop conditions. Sunrise Plus Corp., originally called E-Z Supply, is the largest of the five warehouses. Workers at E-Z Supply forced their employer to pay the legal wage and won an NLRB-supervised election on February 9,2006. In November 2006, over a dozen EZ-Supply workers and 460/640 negotiating committee members faced off against their boss and hammered out a tentative contract that would have given workers two weeks of vacation, paid breaks, sick days, and 60 cent raises every six months. Just after Christmas, before the contract was formalized, EZ-Supply changed its name to Sunrise Plus and fired all the union workers – fourteen workers total. The next week, Handyfat followed suit and fired all six union workers. The employers’ excuse: that the union workers failed to produce working papers. Legally, an employer must request proper documentation within the first 72 hours of work, not after workers exert their right to unionize. Most of the fired workers had worked for their companies for years, several for over a decade. All were fired in crass retaliation for exercising their rights to organize a union and to regain unpaid wages.
The Story at Top City Produce
At 5:00am on December 18, 2006, five workers followed by a spirited crowd of fellow Wobblies marched up to the entrance of Top City Produce. The workers refused to go into work until their boss recognized their right to be paid minimum wage and overtime. After receiving solidarity from two IBT Local 202 drivers delivering containers of produce from the Hunts Point Market, the boss capitulated to the union’s demands. Now, management pays workers above the minimum and gives them the respect they deserve. The union and Top City are currently finalizing a minority contract.
The Struggle Continues
The members of the IWW I.U. 460/640 remain strong. Nearly all of the fired workers have found new jobs while continuing their fight for reinstatement. José, 53, worked at Handyfat for 12 years, and despite his retaliatory firing, he takes pride in the union that he and his coworkers have built:
There was no one before us; we were the first ones. That’s where [the union] grew from. And it makes me happy that it keeps growing, that there’s more members so that there’ll be more strength and unity, so that they won’t keep on exploiting people because there’s too much exploitation.
The NLRB and the US Department of Justice have launched investigations into the companies' illegal request for working papers and the subsequent firings. The NLRB has already issued complaints against Handyfat and Sunrise Plus (EZ-Supply). However, the union is not relying on the courts, where justice is denied through delay. The union organized two marches through Brooklyn, in which hundreds of participants demanded justice for the fired workers. A dozen restaurants have switched from Sunrise Plus to other suppliers. And the union continues to make new contacts, organize new shops, and grow.