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4 Arrested in Immigration Protest Outside Tom Cat Bakery, Police Say

By Jeanmarie Evelly | April 21, 2017 11:48am | Updated on April 21, 2017 4:22pm
 Tom Cat Bakery at 43-05 10th St. in Long Island City.
Tom Cat Bakery at 43-05 10th St. in Long Island City.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

LONG ISLAND CITY — Four protesters were arrested Friday morning for chaining themselves to a delivery truck outside a bakery in Queens, police say — part of an ongoing protest after immigrant workers at the company were told they'd be fired if they could not produce legal working papers.

Police say two men and two women — who were not Tom Cat employees, according to the union that represents the workers — chained themselves to a box truck around 4:30 a.m. during the protest outside Tom Cat Bakery, an artisan bread company located at 43-05 10th St. in Long Island City.

All four were arrested and charged with obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct, according to the NYPD.

The protest comes after 26 employees were told last month they'd be fired if they could not produce new employment documents, the result of a Department of Homeland Security probe of Tom Cat, according to Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union, which represents the workers.

Friday was the deadline for the workers to produce their new papers, according to the union.

Keith Bleier, Tom Cat's president and CEO, sent a letter to staff on Thursday acknowledging the DHS audit, which has forced the 30-year-old company to "release several of our employees."

"While Tom Cat regrets losing valued members of our workforce, we must of course ensure that Tom Cat is in compliance with all applicable employment laws, including those pertaining to authorization to work in the United States," the letter stated.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the agency does not "confirm or deny the existence of ongoing investigations."

Joyce Alston, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union which represents Tom Cat's workers, said of the 26 employees impacted by the probe, four were quickly able to present paperwork that allowed them to stay on the job. Another two employees quit, she said.

The union was able to negotiate a severance package with Tom Cat Bakery for the remaining staffers, which included payout for earned benefits like vacation or sick days, three months of health care coverage and one week of severance pay for each year they'd worked with the company.

Workers were also offered six months to resolve their work eligibility, during which they could return to their positions once they had the proper documents, according to Alston. Five of the affected staffers took the severance deal, leaving 15 who are currently "up in the air," she said.

Brandworkers, a nonprofit that helped organize Friday's event, says the Tom Cat workers affected by the DHS audit walked off their last day on the job Friday to strike.

They declared Friday a "Day Without Bread," and asked residents to avoid buying bread and eateries to refrain from selling it.

The campaign was to protest both the DHS probe of the company as well as the Trump administration's immigration policies, according to a press release.

"We’re on strike today to send a message that we help make America great and we cannot just be thrown away like day-old bread," bakery worker Henry Rivera said in a statement

Some restaurants opted to donate a portion of bread sales to support the bakery's workers, organizers said.