Workers’ Correspondence

The labor upsurge sweeping the U.S. and the world has not left Houston behind. On June 30 at about midnight, union representative Cesar Calderon announced that the Fiesta Mart Inc. bakery commissary workers here voted 54-52 to join the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers Local 163. These brave workers faced intimidating and humiliating tactics from the management of Fiesta Mart

The day before the election, their supporters got a taste of that intimidation.

I arrived about 4:45 p.m. for a prayer vigil outside the store on Wirt Road. The diverse group of about 30 women and men included members of the AFL-CIO, UFCW, SEIU, UAW and Justice for Janitors. Participants holding large placards each with a single letter on it, arranged themselves to spell out “Sí se puede.” Sam Dunning, director of the Office of Justice and Peace of the Galveston-Houston Catholic Diocese, led the prayer service before an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe as we held lit candles.

In the middle of the service, John Valentine Jr. arrived and presented his business card, which read “Loss Prevention Property Manager” for Fiesta. Soon after, a security guard arrived in a golf cart. Valentine told us we could not stand on Fiesta’s parking lot and ordered participants onto the sidewalk next to a busy street. As Dunning prayed and cars whizzed by, Valentine threatened to have our cars towed off from the lot and to call the Houston Police Department. Then he got on his cell phone. One of the participants shouted at him, “Sir, I’m a customer.” When the prayer vigil ended at 5:30 p.m. as planned, I noticed that a tow truck was arriving.

The bakers join other grocery workers in Houston who have recently formed unions including thousands of building janitors and workers at the Hiltons America. The United Food and Commercial Workers is actively organizing Fiesta’s grocery.

— Paul Hill