Dining Out on Cheap Labor

Worker Slam-Down at Brooklyn Plant

After the leaflets appeared, managers called employees into the office, one at a time, and asked them to name who was responsible. According to Mayra Peters-Quintero, an attorney with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund who has filed labor complaints against Tuv Taam with federal and state agencies, managers said they already knew Palacios was involved. They offered cash for the identities of other organizers. The workers refused, and that evening Palacios was fired.

It was an unusual walkout. The workers weren't members of a union, and they never declared themselves on strike. "We're not afraid," Lucero confidently told the Daily News' Carolina Gonzalez, the first to report the protest. Over the next three weeks, Tuv Taam continued operating with replacement workers as the protesters met with several unions interested in representing them, and tried to plot strategy.

On July 19, all the workers except Palacios received letters from the company stating that they could go back to work without conditions. After a discussion and a vote to affiliate with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union of the AFL-CIO, the workers decided to accept. They would go back to their jobs and continue trying to organize.

Rangel Lucero: "They don’t want us back."
photo: Michael Sofronski
Rangel Lucero: "They don’t want us back."

With the letters clenched in their hands, the protesters tried to go back on Sunday, July 29, but found the plant closed for religious observance. The next morning, they tried again but were met by owner Aaron Nutovic. He seemed to have a speech prepared, Lucero said. "He said, 'Rangel, you see the newspaper here? You say you don't have men's room, water? You're coming here and you want work? Forget it. You said in strike, 'No Justice, No Business.' So I don't have business for you. I don't have time to speak to you.' "

Nutovic also had no time for the Voice; he didn't return calls. Lucero went last Wednesday to the plant to pick up his work boots and pants. Just in case, he asked a manager if there was work for him. The answer was still no. "Some people, like me and Oscar [Palacios], are too strong. They don't want us back," he explained.

Contributions to aid the fired Tuv Taam workers can be sent to: Latin American Workers Project, Tuv Taam Strike Fund, c/o Transfiguration Parish Credit Union, 429 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211.

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