OAKLAND, Calif. - Over 200 labor and community protesters filled the sidewalk around the Mi Pueblo Food Center here Oct. 20, calling on the store to stop collaborating with the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
The supermarket is located in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood, home to a large Latino community.
The protesters also urged prospective customers to join a boycott of all Mi Pueblo stores - some 21 in northern California - launched Oct. 8 to protest the company's announcement that it was cooperating with the government's online E-Verify program to determine workers' immigration status. Participation in E-Verify is voluntary in California.
Daniel Vasquez carried a sign with the legend, "Christ would never e-verify anyone!"
Asked why he had come all the way from his home in San Jose for the action, he said, "We are brothers, we are all on the same earth. We need to be together against any injustice."
Vasquez said a friend who worked for Mi Pueblo was fired because he wanted to organize a union there. "That's not right," he said. "I'm here for him."
Emiliano Bourgois-Chacon, director of the San Francisco Day Labor Program, was there with members of the program including several from its Women's Collective. The program has seen E-Verify's impact on the community, he said, with a number of people joining after having lost their former jobs as a result.
Bringing more energy to an already lively picket line were dozens of young people bearing signs, "Sin papeles y sin miedo, Undocumented and unafraid!" "We are not illegal," and "We all have a dream!"
They had been among protesters who gathered near the store's front entrance and successfully challenged Mi Pueblo's lack of a sound permit for the music blaring from its loudspeakers.
Mi Pueblo announced in August that following a recommendation from the federal government, it had joined the E-verify program. Earlier this month the company said it is undergoing an I-9 immigration status audit.
The labor- community Justice for Mercado Workers Campaign is meeting with immigration authorities, urging them to follow their policy of suspending audits when a labor dispute is in progress. For several years, Mi Pueblo workers have been seeking to organize with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.
Actions supporting the Mi Pueblo workers have also taken place in Salinas and San Jose, and community pressure is growing for actions in more cities, Gerardo Dominguez, the UFCW's director of strategic programs, said in a telephone interview.
Dominguez said people are "slowly but surely" coming together around workers' issues, at many different markets in addition to the Mi Pueblo chain.
The Justice for Mercado Workers Campaign was formally launched nearly three years ago.
It brings together labor and community organizations including UFCW Local 5, the California League of United Latin American Citizens, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, the California Healthy Communities Network and others, to advocate for all workers at the ethnic grocery stores which number many recent immigrants among both workers and customers.
Dominguez said similar, but unrelated, developments are taking place elsewhere in the country.
The campaign estimates that some 30,000 California workers, many of them in the San Francisco Bay Area, are employed by mercados.
The Justice for Mercado Workers Campaign seeks to convince mercado owners to sign a code of conduct calling for observance of basic labor laws, timely and full payment of wages, paid sick and vacation days, recognition of workers' right to organize, and compliance with federal and state nondiscrimination laws.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW