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The Dignity and Resistance Coalition Challenges Mi Pueblo Market's Attack on Immigrants
Picketers seek to draw attention to Mi Pueblo Market chain’s long, documented history of unfair and oppressive labor practices, a history that Saturday's demonstrators argue has led Mi Pueblo Market owner, Juvenal Chavez, to work with the Department of Homeland Security as retaliation against undocumented employees organizing for better working conditions.
Saturday afternoon, a lively crowd of around 200 activists joined the Dignity and Resistance Coalition's planned picket of Mi Pueblo Market in Oakland.
Cars honked their horns as they drove by the loud chants and colorful signs signaling passersby to boycott Mi Pueblo due to management’s anti-immigrant policies including the voluntary implementation of E-Verify, a government database that checks the immigration status of new applicants.
At the height of the demonstration, members of the youth group 67 Suenos performed a direct action to take over Mi Pueblo’s parking lot by performing spoken word. Mi Pueblo management had attempted to drown out the picket by blasting loud ranchero music but protesters pulled the plug to the market's sound system as 67 Suenos faced-off with Mi Pueblo security and preformed “We out here tryin’ to Boycott” (to the tune of E-40’s popular rap song “We out here tryin’ to Function”) that included the lyrics, “If you’re E-Verifying, We Ain’t Buying!” Demonstrators cheered and joined the youth takeover.
An ex-Mi Pueblo employee who now organizes with the Justice for Mercado Workers Coalition and other activists began to call out the hypocrisy of Mi Pueblo management who had congregated in front of the store entrance--Mi Pueblo was founded by an undocumented worker and now is working to repress undocumented employees--Heated arguments about immigrant rights between Mi Pueblo management, workers, ex-workers and demonstrators ensued. Mi Pueblo security was unable and appeared to be completely unprepared to deal with such a vocal group of demonstrators that greatly outnumbered them. Store director, Carlos Bailon, resorted to throwing eggs at protesters. At this time, it is unknown if organizers will be pressing charges.
Activists with Dignity and Resistance Coalition, 67 Suenos and dozens of community members held the parking lot by chanting, dancing and locking arms with each other in a peaceful display of civil disobedience. Students and teachers with Oakland Unified School district held their signs and banners high while flyering and engaging customers on their way in and out of the store.
The Dignity and Resistance Coalition ended the picket with a powerful press conference that centered Ex-Mi Pueblo workers sharing their stories of struggle while employed at the market. These stories include management threats of calling immigration enforcement as a form of disciplinary action and not being afforded basic workers protections like the right to organize. Workers have also alleged Mi Pueblo regularly does not pay workers overtime and engages in gender and racial discrimination.
Union representatives with United Food and Commercial Workers spoke to the crowd about the right for workers to unionize and the importance of the community to support newly fired employees. Pacific Steel Workers, who have been active members of the Dignity and Resistance Coalition, spoke about the need for activist solidarity.
Mi Pueblo employees have been attempting to unionize for a number of years but have been met with resistance from Mi Pueblo owner, Juvenal Chavez. Last year, Mi Pueblo’s San Jose store fired 300 workers without notice and now Mi Pueblo is claiming the government is implementing an I-9 audit, also known as a “silent raid,” that will fire hundreds of undocumented workers. The law protects workers involved in labor disputes from I-9 implementation but Mr. Chavez refuses to use this law to call on authorities to stop the audit. In fact, Chavez is suspected of calling the government to conduct the audit himself and since the government will not confirm an audit even exists, some have suggested Chavez is falsely claiming to be audited so he can fire workers at will.
Chavez’s recent decision to implement E-Verify was a shock to many community members and customers of Mi Pueblo’s Oakland Store; however, when Mi Pueblo announced the government would enact an I-9 Audit of Mi Pueblo, resulting in the firing of undocumented workers who have been actively challenging Mi Pueblo corrupt leadership, the community was outraged and joined the Justice for Mercado Workers boycott of Mi Pueblo that began October 8th. Demonstrators noted that anytime a corporation shares the immigration status of employees with government entities puts undocumented workers at risk of further government repression, even deportation. Therefore, it's egregious that Mi Pueblo's founder, Juvenal Chavez, is choosing to work with the Department of Homeland Security as retaliation against undocumented employees organizing for better working conditions.
Mi Pueblo Market's business was noticeably slow during the picket and numerous cars turned away when they learned of the boycott.
The Dignity and Resistance Coalition, that planned Saturday's picket, noted that if Chavez follows through with firing hundreds of undocumented workers, the coalition will escalate action against the market chain. Tuesday, the coalition released several demands of Mi Pueblo Market and the Obama Administration. They can be read below:
“The Dignity and Resistance Coalition DEMANDS:
*Mi Pueblo employees are able to work and organize without owner Juvenal Chavez's and manager Carlos Bailon’s intimidation and retaliation.
*Mi Pueblo stop all collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement
*Mi Pueblo halt all unfair labor practices, discrimination, and re-hire fired workers immediately.
*Obama’s Administration stop e-verify implementation, silent raids, deportations and all attacks on immigrant communities.”
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