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LI cookie maker tells workers they'll be deported, fired if they unionize, employees allege

Some workers say Tate's Bake Shop, which has

Some workers say Tate's Bake Shop, which has a manufacturing plant in East Moriches, has been engaging in unfair labor practices to stifle a union organizing attempt. The company denies the allegations. Credit: John Roca

A union attempting to organize hundreds of workers at Tate's Bake Shop has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the Long Island-based cookie manufacturer is using intimidation tactics to deter the effort.

The complaint, filed Wednesday by Valley Stream-based Amalgamated Local 298, lists 10 alleged acts of company intimidation and harassment against workers.

The NLRB will be overseeing Tate’s employees’ mail-in voting on whether to join the union, according to a notice on the federal agency's website. The NLRB will mail ballots to eligible Tate's voters March 26. The deadline for completed ballots to be received by the NLRB is April 21.

Founded in 2000, Tate’s employs about 450 people, 96% of whom work at an East Moriches factory, said Anthony Miranti, delegate with the Eastern States Joint Board, an umbrella organization under which Amalgamated Local 298 falls. Most of Tate's employees are natives of Central American countries, such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, Tate’s employees told Newsday.

Mondelēz International Inc., the Chicago-based snack food company that bought Tate’s for $500 million in 2018, denied the workers' and union’s allegations.

"It is really misinformation and falsehoods and misrepresentation of the company and Tate’s across a number of fronts," said Laurie M. Guzzinati, a spokeswoman for Mondelēz.

The company respects the rights of workers to vote to unionize, she said.

"And that’s the process that is under way that the NLRB is conducting," she said.

Some Tate’s workers approached Amalgamated Local 298 last summer to inquire about joining the union in hopes of improving working conditions at the factory, said five workers interviewed Wednesday.

"I’m tired of being mistreated," one of the two workers named in the NLRB complaint said in Spanish. "They exploit people as much as they can."

The worker, a native of El Salvador, asked that her name not be used for fear of retribution.

"Their issues were, of course, wages ... and their working conditions," Miranti said. "A lot of them didn’t know what they were entitled to. What happens if they got sick? How many days would they be paid for? So, they were looking for information."

The workers also were seeking union representation because Tate’s managers allegedly were barring workers from taking bathroom breaks, forcing them to work overtime, and requiring employees to work in unsafe conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic that began last March, some Tate’s employees said.

In response to workers’ efforts to unionize, Tate’s managers and their representatives have forced employees to sign petitions against unionizing or risk losing their benefits, told workers who support the union that they will be fired six months after a vote to join a union, and sent company "spies" to employee meetings offsite where unionizing was being discussed, according to some Tate’s workers.

Those claims are among a list of 10 illegal acts Tate’s allegedly committed, according to the union's complaint.

The threat of deportation is also among the claims in the complaint.

The workers allege Tate's told them that if they join Amalgamated Local 298, the union would investigate their immigration status and that could lead to deportations for undocumented workers.

Tate's denies all the allegations.

The company pays employees competitive wages and offers the same comprehensive benefits to hourly and salaried workers, Guzzinati said.

Also, early last year, the company implemented health and safety protocols related to the pandemic, such as increased building cleaning and daily temperature screenings for workers, she said.

As far as the petition against joining the union, "my understanding is that were a number of employees, of their own volition, who took it upon themselves to circulate a petition saying they didn't want the union," she said.

Furthermore, the company adheres to immigration law requirements, including use of Form I-9, Guzzinati said.

The form is a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services document that is used to identify and verify employment authorization for all paid workers hired in the country.

The union does not investigate its members' immigration status, said Cosmo Lubrano, business agent for the Eastern States Joint Board. "We have the assumption that the company did their due diligence and the person has the right to work in this country," he said.

In disputing the allegations against Tate's, Guzzinati pointed to the fact that the union filed several other complaints against the company with the NLRB over the past several months that were withdrawn.

The previous complaints were withdrawn because no employees were willing to be named, due to fear of retaliation by Tate’s, the union's Miranti said.

Newsday has requested the previous NLRB filings through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from "interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees" who are attempting to unionize or join unions.

Most employees in the private sector are covered under the National Labor Relations Act, regardless of their immigration status.

Illegal employer conduct includes threatening employees with the loss of their jobs or benefits if they join or vote for a union, threatening to close a plant if workers unionize, and questioning workers "about their union sympathies or activities in circumstances that tend to interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights under the act," according to the NLRB’s website.

With Daysi Calavia-Robertson

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