Workers Launch Campaign Challenging Image of High-End Baking Company
Queens, NY – Artisanal bakery workers at the large Amy's Bread production facility here were joined by foodies, community leaders, workers' rights activists, and fellow food production workers to kick off a campaign challenging disrespectful treatment, inaccessible health care, and wages too low to live on for many workers.
“We take pride in the bread we bake and it's some of the best in the City,” said Luis Velesaca, a 17-year baker at Amy's Bread, the widely-admired wholesaler and retailer of artisanal bread. “The image of Amy's Bread as a community-oriented company fueled its growth to the large facility where we now work. But those of us who make the bread don't have the financial security our families need or the treatment we deserve. We're asking the company to come to the table and join in a dialogue around livable wages, affordable health care, and a respectful work environment for everyone.”
Founded in 1992 by noted food personality Amy Scherber as a small Hell's Kitchen bread shop, Amy's Bread has grown into a 33,000 square-foot factory in Long Island City where the workers are employed along with three retail outlets. The company, routinely ranked as one of the top bakeries in the country, is an integral wholesale supplier to many of NYC's most prominent chefs and gourmet grocery stores.
The workers are organizing with the support of Brandworkers, a non-profit organization that helps food production workers build their own campaigns, and the NYC Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a grassroots labor union. Workers launched a website along with their campaign today at amysbread.brandworkers.org and will be tweeting along with supporters using the hashtag #WhoMakesAmysBread.
"Amy's Bread has a great story and it's time for the company to make that story real for workers and consumers concerned with a responsible food system, " said Ana Maria Rico, a maintenance worker at Amy's Bread. "The company should embrace this opportunity for dialogue with those of us who make Amy's Bread work every day."
The workers at Amy's Bread represent a diverse cross-section of low-income New Yorkers including Latino, Asian, and African immigrants, as well as African-American and white workers. Though the company has achieved phenomenal growth, workers continue to struggle to afford basic necessities like rent, utilities, and food for their own families' tables. The company's health plan is far too expensive for workers to afford, leaving many uninsured or reliant on public assistance. Many workers report being treated with disrespect and threatened with losing work days if they speak up.
“Immigrant and low-income workers produce much of the high-end food that is sold in New York's most exclusive restaurants and markets,” said Dorian Warren, a political science professor at Columbia University and an expert on new models of low-wage worker organizing. “While New York City's food manufacturing industry continues to grow, the quality of jobs is not keeping pace and these workers have decided to do something about it.”
35,000 workers are employed in New York City's food production and distribution industry which supplies everything from hummus and juice to seafood and baked goods to New York's restaurant and grocery stores. Monday's campaign launch represents an escalation of the industry-wide organizing effort to deliver on the economic, health, and ecological opportunities associated with the growing appeal of local food.
Founded in 2007, Brandworkers is a Queens-based non-profit organization of workers in the local food production industry joining together for dignified jobs and a just food system for everyone. Through training, leadership development, and a network of community supporters, Brandworkers helps food workers build their own campaigns to improve their jobs and promote a better food system for everyone.