Restaurant Workers Stage ‘Day Without Immigrants’

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By Jaclyn Diaz

Hundreds of restaurants across the country risked losing thousands of dollars Feb. 16 by closing their doors or offering limited services in response to employees’ participation in a “Day Without Immigrants” work stoppage.

The protest, organized through word of mouth and social media, takes aim at President Donald Trump’s recent executive actions on immigration. Protesters sought to show the strength of the immigrant community.

Restaurants in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Austin, Texas, and other cities closed down in solidarity with the job action. Some hotel workers also participated.

Online posts by restaurants and participants show that hundreds of establishments supported the effort, but those figures could not be confirmed by any of the organizations interviewed by Bloomberg BNA. Any broad economic impact also could not be immediately determined.

Employers have been understanding of striking workers, John Boardman, the executive secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 25 in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16. They understand the value of their immigrant workers and that they keep the hospitality industry afloat, he said.

But the National Restaurant Association said in a statement that the protest only serves to disrupt businesses and hurt working families.

“By encouraging walk outs, these organizations disrupt the workplaces of hard-working Americans who are trying to provide for their families,” said Leslie Shedd, the vice president of communications for the National Restaurant Association.

Among the D.C.-area restaurants that were closed are three of José Andrés’ Jaleo properties and his Zaytina and Oyamel restaurants. Andrés was sued after he backed out of a plan to open a restaurant in the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington. He made that decision after Trump called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals” during his presidential campaign.

The president has also promised to build a wall along the Mexican border, step up deportation of undocumented immigrants and enact “extreme vetting” of immigrants coming to the U.S. from select countries.

Restaurants Experience Big Losses

The D.C.-area Mindful Restaurant Group closed eight of its restaurants Feb. 16. Nearly 70 percent of its 250 employees were not born in the U.S., Ari Gejdenson, the organization’s founder, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16.

“It’s impossible to run our restaurants” without foreign born staff members, he said.

Thursdays are usually a good day and by closing, the company was looking at a loss of $80,000--a big hit, Gejdenson said.

Mindful Restaurant servers generally make an hourly wage of between $25 and $40 while back-of-the-house staffers generally make $15 to $20 an hour. The restaurant group has not decided whether to pay the hourly employees for the lost day, but salaried employees will be paid, Gejdenson said.

Nationally, 23 percent of restaurant employees are foreign born, and they make up 18.5 percent of the workforce overall, Kathy Hollinger, the president and CEO of Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, said in a Feb. 15 statement. In D.C., 61,600 restaurant and food service jobs made up 9 percent of the area’s employment rolls in 2016, according to the National Restaurant Association’s research.

Employers spoke with their workers to determine how many employees wanted to take action on Feb. 16, Boardman of UNITE-HERE said. He said he knows of no disciplinary action being taken against workers who took the day off.

Closing down for a day is a luxury that employers in the hotel industry can’t take, Boardman said. Employees not protesting were likely to work double shifts at hotels in the area, he said.

Expect Future Action

This is a heightened moment of anxiety over the Trump administration’s actions on immigration, so employers should expect future protests by low-wage and immigrant workers, Janice Fine, an associate professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University, told Bloomberg BNA.

As employees continue to communicate with employers their intent to protest, employers may become more involved as well, Fine said.

“This takes coordination with the employers,” she said. “Employers might become more politicized because of what’s going on with their employees.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jDiaz@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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