Most of the workers at a well-known bakery in Chicago were Hispanic…until President Trump’s ICE started investigating, now, most of them are Black Americans. Is this how Barack Obama was helping the black community find employment in his “hometown” of Chicago?
On January 16, 2017, President Trump tweeted about the lowest ever recorded unemployment numbers for Black Americans under his presidency.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a major bakery on the Northwest Side once known for making Little Debbie snack cakes was sold earlier this month after an immigration audit cost the company about a third of its workers.
About 800 employees of the main Cloverhill Bakery on the Northwest Side and the company’s bakeries in Cicero and Romeoville lost their jobs when the audit found many were hired after presenting fake or stolen IDs.
The owner of Little Debbie walked away, saying its orders no longer were getting filled on time by Cloverhill, and revenues fell for the bakery’s corporate owner, the Swiss food conglomerate Aryzta.
Finally, Aryzta had enough and sold the bakeries. Hostess Brands said it’s buying Cloverhill’s Chicago bakery from Aryzta.
Some might see what happened at Cloverhill as a sign of things to come under the Trump administration, with fears in corporate America and among immigrants of increased government crackdowns.
But the story of the 137,000-square-foot bakery in Galewood on the Northwest Side of Chicago appears to be more complicated than that. It precedes the Trump administration and involves tensions between African American and Hispanic workers, according to current and former employees, a former company consultant and a worker activist group.
According to Breitbart, OakPark.com reported:
Lisa Pintado-Vertner, a member of Oak Park Call to Action, said that employees have told her that Aryzta tries to “pit groups against each other, because if you divide you can conquer,” she said.
“We hear stories from African Americans who say Latinos won’t speak English to me and Latinos who say blacks are lazy.”
The Sun-Times reported that African American employees at Cloverhill summoned Trump’s ICE agents amid blue-collar conflicts over language, hours, shifts, favoritism and pay.
Lynne Lane, a union steward at Cloverhill, says there are tensions as the two groups work side by side. Lane, who is black, says it was black workers at the bakery who called a government hotline to report the Mexican workers to immigration authorities.
“It was [African American] workers in the plant that saw, you know, like I said, that had been treated unfairly and treated like secondary-class citizens” by Hispanic workers, Lane says. “So it was a whole lot of employees in the company. Well, they was given a number, as far as I know. They was given a number to call … to call Immigration.”
Listen to one Cloverhill Bakery worker’s story:
“Unfortunately in Chicago, there is a widespread segregationist employment model to contract out most of your production work through temporary agencies and look the other way when they target employees by race or immigration status,” says Giloth, a former union organizer who is project manager for the group Coalition Against Segregation of Employees. “The goal is to create a very vulnerable workforce — and keep the wages low.”
Aryzta bought Cloverhill in 2014. At the time, according to bakery employees and community organizers, most of the employees were natives of Mexico, most who’d been hired through Labor Network, a temporary-employment agency.
But many of those workers weren’t temporary in the dictionary sense of the word. Most were so-called “permatemps” — temp workers who actually were permanently employed at Cloverhill. Most had been there for years, at least, and some for decades.
In 2015, under the Obama administration, ICE inspected the documentation of Labor Network’s employees at Cloverhill. In May 2017, the Trump administration sent letters to about 800 employees, saying they weren’t authorized to work in the United States, records examined by the Chicago Sun-Times show.
Those Hispanic employees didn’t return to work, leaving the bakery desperate to fill their jobs. So the company turned to another placement agency, Metro Staff Inc., and it provided Cloverhill with workers screened through the government’s “E-Verification” program. Most of those new employees are African American.
Ed French, owner of Elgin-based Metro Staff Inc., says his company became the main provider of workers for the bakery and that about 80 percent of them are black. According to French, workers at the bakery were paid slightly less before his company was hired two and a half years ago — with wages up by about 25 cents an hour, to just above minimum wage.
He says everyone hired through his company is permitted to work in the country and has passed a background check and drug test.
According to a former consultant to the bakery, MSI paid the black workers $14 an hour, versus the $10 an hour the Mexican workers were making through Labor Network.
“One of the facts of the case — and a reality in America — is that the immigrants do the work for less than an American will,” says Okwusa’s lawyer, George Oparanozie. “It shows the dynamics of immigration in this country. Many of these Hispanic workers have been here a long time, pay taxes in a lot of instances, and many of them could now be kicked out of the country.”
Attorneys who represent undocumented immigrants say they haven’t heard of any former Cloverhill employees being placed in detention for deportation to Mexico.
In the past, most of the workers at Cloverhill were Hispanic. Now, most are black.