Days before the election to determine whether She Wolf Bakery workers will unionize, owner Andrew Tarlow says that he found himself depicted as an antisemitic caricature in pro-union zines left in the bakery break room.
On Tuesday, February 6, Tarlow says he discovered information pamphlets for English-speaking workers (which were not translated for Spanish workers) about tactics management might use “to dissuade workers from organizing.” Then on page six of the zine, an image of a hook-nosed, top-hat-wearing, disapproving employer appears next to the text, “Don’t be manipulated into passivity.”
The image seems to represent Tarlow by way of the hooked-nose stereotype, the kind of depiction explained via the Media Diversity Institute, that “goes back to antisemitic and Nazi propaganda from the 1930s and since then has gone on to become a common trope — and, whether intentionally or not — pushes antisemitic stereotypes to this day.” The organization notes that the stereotype is “very much alive.”
“Normally I wouldn’t discuss workplace or employee issues publicly,” Tarlow told Eater. “However, the union organizers have been talking out of both sides of their mouths. How can you claim to want to advance equity and yet employ such discriminatory tactics? I want all of our employees to know the truth and make informed decisions.” The union election is scheduled for Tuesday, February 13.
On Wednesday, February 7, Tarlow wrote a letter to She Wolf employees, as well as the head of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. In his morning email to staff, Tarlow said he wrote to address the content of the zine, specifically, “a caricature of me that appeared to reference my Jewish heritage,” he wrote. “I am working from the charitable assumption that the person who created the illustrations were unaware that this caricature is antisemitic....This is a violation of our policies against harassment and discrimination, and is hardly consistent with the equitable and inclusive environment we strive to create and you claim to want.”
That evening, two employees emailed Tarlow, admitting to having made the zine, and apologized. “We now recognize how that image is hurtful and offensive,” they wrote. “That was not our intent, but we understand the impact. When constructing the zine we pulled images from a random book of illustrations and used that image thoughtlessly. We’re very sorry for our ignorance.... Throughout this process, we’ve made it a priority to never attack you or our managers because we honestly have nothing but respect and admiration towards the management team. We hope we can continue this process of unionizing together with care and forgiveness.”
“I appreciate your email but I’m at a loss,” Tarlow wrote back late morning on February 8. “I remain hurt beyond words that an assertion of your rights leads to an antisemitic attack.”
When Tarlow flagged the incident to the president of the union, Stuart Appelbaum, also on February 7, Appelbaum said he was “personally offended” by the image.
She Wolf employees unionized, they said, because they want access to affordable healthcare, higher wages, and more temperature control when it comes to extreme heat and cold in the bakery. Some workers also cited discrimination in a recent article in online socialist magazine Jacobin.
The employees behind the push to unionize voted on January 18; it was “a supermajority,” said Maria DiPasquale, a spokesperson for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, of the decision to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The staff at She Wolf is one of several food businesses that have decided to unionize. Others include Lodi by Ignacio Mattos; Barboncino, a pizza shop in Crown Heights; Blank Street Coffee; and most recently, Nighthawk, Park Slope’s dine-in movie theater.
The union issued a statement the evening of February 8. “The RWDSU, which did not create or review the zine in whole or in part in any way, agrees that this is a completely inappropriate and antisemitic image,” it reads. “In his message to workers, Mr. Tarlow assumed the image was unintentional; the union swiftly investigated it and he was right. The people involved, who did this on their own, were unaware of the antisemitic nature of the drawing and were distraught when they realized how it could be perceived. This issue has been settled, the workers have apologized and destroyed all copies of the zine, which Mr. Tarlow is aware of.”