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New York, NY — A leader of the NYC-based Laundry Workers Center (LWC) said he received a death threat Monday night, during a rally of over seventy people outside Liberato Restaurant, a popular Bronx establishment. LWC co-director Mahoma Lopez, along with members of the worker center and several community groups and labor unions, was protesting the firings of three workers last weekend at the restaurant.
“Someone came out of the restaurant and approached me at the picket line,” Lopez said. “He told me to be careful because the company already has five hit men with guns.”
Lopez has filed a police report for harassment. He speculated that the threat was intended to stop the organizing efforts of the Laundry Workers Center and the workers at Liberato Restaurant.
Employees of the restaurant have reportedly been paid well below minimum wage, with no overtime pay and unsafe working conditions: no breaks, no access to a first aid kit, dangerously steep staircases, poor ventilation, both freezing and extremely high temperatures, and being forced to work in a flooded basement. Workers also allege sexual harassment from the restaurant’s owner Manuel Antonio Liberato, and a number of the restaurant’s managers.
In addition to the firings and alleged threat against Lopez, a worker involved with the Liberato campaign reported someone taking photos of her car and license plate, and LWC organizers say family members in the Dominican Republic and NYC have been threatened as well.
“Concerted activity”—workers acting together to improve their pay and working conditions—is protected by federal law. Liberato workers and the Laundry Workers Center say the three firings targeted the leaders of the campaign and were retaliatory and illegal, as are the threats against LWC leaders.
Liberato worker Maggie Andres, one of those fired last weekend, said “We will not stop fighting even though the owner, Manuel Antonio Liberato, has continued to break the law. We are raising our voice to be heard, so the law can be respected, and the restaurant begin paying minimum wage.“
Lopez said, “We’re not going to give up. No matter what the company says, no matter what threats are made, we’re not going to stop until they respect the workers.”
Mahoma Lopez is also the star of the award-winning documentary The Hand That Feeds, in which “the sandwich-maker… unites his undocumented immigrant coworkers to fight abusive conditions at a popular New York restaurant chain.”