Labor's Gotta Play Hardball to Win!

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The Internationalist
June 2015

Liberato Lashes Out as Restaurant
Workers Fight for Their Rights


Laundry Workers Center co-director and leader of Hot and Crusty workers Mahoma Lopez (with bullhorn) and Liberato restaurant workers leader Maggie Andrés Crecencio at June 22 protest.
(Internationalist photo)

In a June 23 press release, the Laundry Workers Center reports that LWC co-director Mahoma Lopez, a leader of the Hot and Crusty workers’ struggle, received a death threat the previous day. “Someone came out of the restaurant and approached me at the picket line,” Lopez said. “He told me to be careful because the company already has five hit men with guns.” The LWC statement states further:

“He speculated that the threat was intended to stop the organizing efforts of the Laundry Workers Center and the workers at Liberato Restaurant.... Lopez said, ‘We’re not going to give up. No matter what the company says, no matter what threats are made, we're not going to stop until they respect the workers.’ Mahoma Lopez is also the star of the award-winning documentary The Hand That Feeds, in which ‘the sandwich-maker...unites his undocumented immigrant coworkers to fight abusive conditions at a popular New York restaurant chain.’”

JUNE 22 – “Liberato Workers, We Are with You” chanted the crowd of over 70 protesters outside the Liberato Restaurant on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. Also, “Against exploitation – organization,” “La lucha obrera no tiene fronteras” and “Asian, Latin, Black and White – Workers of the World, Unite!” Demonstrators had come out for an emergency rally in response to the June 20 firing of three of the immigrant workers leading the bitter fight that has lasted over a year already against wage theft and sexual harassment.

The blatantly retaliatory firings were the Liberato owners’ revenge for workers’ refusal to accept an insulting “settlement offer” that, among other things, would have required those involved in the campaign to leave the restaurant. The firings came after Liberato, which operates two large North Bronx eateries, suffered legal setbacks in its attempts to stop the workers’ campaign.

On May 8, state judge Eileen Rakower ruled against Liberato’s lawsuit charging labor rights organizers from the Laundry Workers Center (LWC) with “defamation” for telling the truth about conditions at the restaurant. Dismissing Liberato’s suit, she stated that it had “‘all the earmarks’ of a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP, suit”. SLAPP suits are intended to intimidate critics by burdening them with onerous legal procedures. A month later, LWC activists sued the company for legal fees incurred in defending themselves against the suit.

Intent on using every dirty trick in the bosses’ arsenal, Liberato also filed a federal “RICO” suit against the LWC early this year, using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, notorious as a tool for “fishing expeditions” and bankrupting its targets. Employers have often “used RICO to try and intimidate workers and worker organizations, and ... they can cause reputational damage at least,” notes Fordham Law professor James Brudney, as such suits can bring not only treble damages but smearing labor organizers as “mobsters” (Village Voice, March 10). As those who have followed the Liberato struggle can attest, the real gangsterish tactics are those used by the bosses in their attempts to silence the workers.

June 22 protest in defense of fired Liberato workers.
(Internationalist photo)

At the rally and march today in defense of the fired workers, organizers and activists said Liberato is lashing out in desperation as each of its ploys is rebuffed by the workers’ determination. Maggie Andrés Crecencio, one of the fired leaders, spoke with The Internationalist in front of Liberato’s 183rd Street locale, shortly before protesters marched to Liberato’s other location on Burnside Avenue. She said: “This July it would have been six years that I’ve been working at Liberato, doing a series of different jobs there. Now they fired me and two others.” A year ago, “they fired a number of other compañeros in the same way, with up to nine years working there. They did this because one of the workers fired last year initiated a legal complaint against wage theft and other violations.”

Crecencio continued:

“They are doing all these firings because of the fight we are carrying out. The boss doesn’t want to pay us any kind of decent wage. They’re trying to intimidate us so we won’t speak out. But I think that here and everywhere, we have to raise our voice, so everyone won’t be humiliated and won’t have their rights trampled. I believe that both women and men have the same right to be respected.... This situation cannot continue.”

The Liberato employees’ fight was inspired in part by immigrant workers’ organizing victory at the Hot and Crusty bakery in midtown Manhattan (see “Hot and Crusty Workers Win with Groundbreaking Contract,” The Internationalist, November 2012). As reported by the Class Struggle Education Workers (CSEW), which has helped build support for the Bronx restaurant struggle:

“[The campaign was] launched in April 2014 by immigrant workers at the Liberato Restaurant in the Bronx. For years they’ve been subjected to below-minimum wages and sexual harassment, denied overtime pay and had their tips stolen. Like tens of thousands of workers in the restaurant industry, the Liberato workers are doubly or triply robbed. According to the National Employee Law Project, each NYC restaurant worker is robbed of $3,000 annually by the bosses breaking their own laws governing exploitation.”
–“Immigrant Workers Win Union at Hot and Crusty, Fight Wage Theft at Liberato,” Class Struggle Education Workers Newsletter, Summer-Fall 2014

At the City University of New York, the Internationalist Clubs and CSEW have rallied support for the Liberato workers’ fight. This has included bringing contingents of students and adjunct professors to the picket lines, arranging for Liberato workers to address campus speak-outs against racist police terror, and organizing a special “Solidarity with Immigrant Workers” meeting to support the Liberato struggle outside Hunter College on April 21.

An Internationalist speaker told today’s rally in support of the fired workers:

“Like the workers at Hot and Crusty, the women and men who work at Liberato Restaurant are setting an example for the working class of New York City through their courage and determination. They refuse to be silenced as they tell the truth about the ruthless exploitation they face, the wage theft, and the sexual harassment that is part of this oppression. The power of all the workers must be brought out to win these fights. This means defeating the bosses’ attempts to divide the workers, both here and as we see now in the Dominican Republic with the attack against people of Haitian descent. It means fighting against racist terror like what we saw in Charleston, South Carolina. It means the workers uniting to impose their own rule and their own justice.” ■