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The Hand That Feeds

At a popular bakery cafe, residents of New York's Upper East Side get bagels and coffee served with a smile 24 hours a day. But behind the scenes, undocumented immigrant workers face sub-legal wages, dangerous machinery, and abusive managers who will fire them for calling in sick. Mild-mannered sandwich maker Mahoma Lopez has never been interested in politics, but in January 2012, he convinces a small group of his co-workers to fight back.

Risking deportation and the loss of their livelihood, the workers team up with a diverse crew of innovative young organizers and take the unusual step of forming their own independent union, launching themselves on a journey that will test the limits of their resolve. In one roller-coaster year, they must overcome a shocking betrayal and a two-month lockout. Lawyers will battle in back rooms, Occupy Wall Street protesters will take over the restaurant, and a picket line will divide the neighborhood. If they can win a contract, it will set a historic precedent for low-wage workers across the country. But whatever happens, Mahoma and his coworkers will never be exploited again.

'It is a story that has to be told and retold, in the classroom and in community centers. The vagaries associated with labor organizing, particularly among immigrant and low-wage workers is poignantly lucid. The challenges associated with the struggle for dignity and power in labor relations is presented with stark clarity and detail, and includes important context about the push and pull of immigration. The film is inspiring. One could not view this film without arriving to a deeper understanding of labor organizing, immigrant workers, and the lessons of a sustained movement for social justice.' Deborah Weissman, Professor of Law, University of North Carolina

'Exhilarating...Captures the adrenaline, uncertainties, and joys of an organizing campaign. It shows what a small group of workers-armed with innovative strategies and a clear vision of how to build power-can pull off.' Sonia Singh, Labor Notes

'The Hand That Feeds is not just a story of their fight for better wages, benefits and a right to unionize. As 'Fight for $15' rallies kick off around the country...the documentary is now being used to inspire workers everywhere - especially at small businesses.' Jana Kasperkevic, The Guardian

'A moving documentary...It beautifully exposes the plight of undocumented workers in the food service industry and their struggle for dignity and a piece of the American Dream. Ideal for use in social studies courses on labor, immigration, or the new field of food studies.' Ruth Milkman, Professor of Sociology and Labor Studies, City University of New York, Co-editor, New Labor In New York: Precarious Workers and the Future of the labor Movement

'My strongest possible recommendation is to see this be reminded of how good a victory can feel. This film is a shot in the arm to a movement that can sometimes forget what power we have, even in the darkest of times...It is best for us to think of ourselves as the future vanguard of a mass movement that cannot only give workers a sense of their 'dignity and respect' as Michael Yates puts it, but everybody in the 99 percent.' Louis Proyect, Counterpunch

'The Hand That Feeds provides an absorbing look at the organizing efforts of a small group of undocumented workers and their allies. In following that process, full of unexpected ups and downs, we see the workers move from exploitation to empowerment. This is an inspiring film in a time when labor victories are all too few.' Dr. Robin Leidner, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, Author, Fast Food, Fast Talk: Service Work and the Routinization of Everyday Life

'This inspiring film will encourage discussions on minimum wage and labor practices.' Candace Smith, Booklist

'Putting a human face on a hot-button subject, the film about undocumented workers fighting back against exploitation in the food-service industry is recommended.' P. Hall, Video Librarian

'One comes away...with the feeling that collective action really can get the goods - that all of the risks and heartbreak that go into organizing might just be worth it. And at a time of such widespread working-class demobilization, such a message is desperately needed.' Micah Uetricht, Jacobin

'An effective portrayal of the intricacies of activism - and of a situation in which victories seem all too brief.' Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

'It's Norma Rae with a side of sauerkraut, a tribute to American labor, and an example of socially conscious documentary filmmaking at its best.' Peter Keough, The Boston Globe

'Lopez is a singularly tender, compelling, and articulate campaigner in this high-stakes struggle for justice, filmed with the urgency and suspense of a Hitchcock thriller.' Diana Clarke, The Village Voice

'A powerful new documentary...beautifully shot...The stories of the characters in The Hand That Feeds make for a powerfully emotional movie that moved the diverse audience of New Yorkers to tears at times.' Octavio Blanco, CNN Money

'If you are an organizer, an activist or just someone who likes a good story, you should see The Hand That Feeds...Let's be inspired by The Hand That Feeds which shows that if we organize and persevere, we can win.' Lauren Steiner, Hollywood Progressive

'An inspirational documentary chronicling an intrepid band of working-class heroes' demands that their rights be respected...Excellent (4 stars).' Kam Williams, The Skanner

'A cautionary tale about the false hope perpetuated by the American dream, and an uplifting film that suggests some version of that dream, even in a U.S. with an eroding middle class, can still be achieved.' Jen Chaney, The Dissolve

'As rousing as it is seemingly implausible.' Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter

'Deftly edited for maximum suspense.' Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader

'A powerful story that we don't often see in movies.' Chris Barsanti, PopMatters

'Noteworthy.' Stephen Holden, The New York Times

'If there's one documentary you want to put on your watch list, it's this one.' Rose Arrieta, El Tecolote

'You will never look at your deli server the same way again.' Patricia Aufderheide, Center for Media and Social Impact

'An inspiring story.' Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

'A deeply humanizing look at the low-wage workers in the back of the house.' Alicia Mazzara, DCist
'A necessary addition to the dialogue surrounding the issue of undocumented immigrants.' Marisa M. Kashino, Washingtonian Magazine

'Scrappy, funny, and moving.' Isabella Leone, Students of the World

'A crowd pleaser...A well-plotted and captivating David and Goliath story.' Anthony Kaufman, Indiewire

'An impassioned reminder that collective action is often the best way to fight the powers that be.' Lewis Beale, News and Observer

'A documentary that Americans need to see.' Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, The Herald-Sun


Main credits

Lears, Rachel (film director)
Lears, Rachel (film producer)
Lears, Rachel (screenwriter)
Blotnick, Robin (film director)
Blotnick, Robin (film producer)
Blotnick, Robin (screenwriter)

Other credits

Director of photography, Rachel Lears; editors, Robin Blotnick, David Meneses; original score composed by Ryan Blotnick.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Business Practices
Food Studies
Human Rights
Labor and Work Issues
Latin American Studies
Latino and Chicano Studies
Social Justice
Urban Studies


sandwich maker, Mahoma Lopez, undocumented immigrants, Hot and Crusty, upper east side, undocumented workers, dangerous machinery, abusive managers, deportation, loss of livelihood, organizers, form independent union, lawyers battling, Occupy Wall Street protesters, lockout, picket line divides neighborhood, precedent for low-wage workers, exploitation, labor organizing, social justice, minimum wage, laundry workers center, union election, workers justice cafe, Pax; "The Hand That Feeds"; Bullfrog Films