A Long Island City bakery that planned to fire more than 30 employees unless they showed legal working papers has granted its staff a slight reprieve. Tom Cat Bakery — which had been responding to an audit from the Department of Homeland Security — has told employees that it will look into keeping veteran staff in the country, according to Qns.com, since DHS has extended its deadline to April 21 for staff to submit paperwork showing that they can legally work in the U.S. If a business doesn’t provide the forms, it could potentially be fines or be targeted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement for raids.
Protests organized by food workers nonprofit Brandworkers erupted last week after the bakery told the 31 employees they had been flagged by the government for not having proper I-9 forms, a document that proves they can legally work in the country. To make matters worse, Tom Cat, which has been in Queens since 1987, said that if the workers couldn’t come up with the form within ten days, they would be fired without severance pay. Some of the workers had been at the company for as long as 24 years.
Tom Cat Bakery Inc workers respond to an I-9 immigration audit and threats of being fired after building the company's success for 10+ yearsPosted by Brandworkers on Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Still, the extended deadline and the bakery’s newfound commitment to help some of longtime employees doesn’t mean job security for all. A Brandworkers rep tells Qns.com that although Tom Cat plans to investigate sponsoring some staff, it might not be an option available to all 31 employees. And by April 21, they are still expected to show updated papers proving their legal status.
Last week, it wasn’t clear whether the DHS audit of the bakery staff was a routine inspection or not, though local elected officials blamed it on President Donald Trump’s stricter immigration policies.
The immigration status of restaurant employees has been a topic of conversation nationwide because of the policies, particularly since a significant portion of the industry workforce are immigrants. Many spots are declaring themselves “sanctuary restaurants,” with pledges to serve as safe spaces for everyone, especially the most vulnerable groups.
In the meantime, Brandworkers and Tom Cat staff are raising money to help the 31 employees should they be fired. At press time, they had raised more than $26,000, buoyed by a $25,000 donation from one anonymous donor.