Industry News | April 27, 2006

Restaurants Prepare for May 1 Protests

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U.S. restaurants are gearing up for large-scale demonstrations by Latinos expected Monday as part of a demand for amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Organized by pro-immigration activists, this “day without immigrants” is meant to stress the role undocumented workers play in the U.S. economy in the face of congressional debate over immigration reform. Plans for the demonstrations include marches in major cities, a call for immigrants to boycott U.S. businesses, and work and school walkouts.

Organizers say they expect a large turnout, with Chicago activists predicting demonstrations of 300,000 and the New York May 1 Coalition reporting that numerous businesses there will close to allow workers to attend the Union Square rally in Manhattan.

“There will be 2 to 3 million people hitting the streets in Los Angeles alone,” Jorge Rodriguez, a union official who helped organize rallies in previous weeks, told Reuters. “We’re going to close down Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Tucson, Phoenix, Fresno.”

A spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association says the organization is not taking a formal position for or against the May 1 demonstrations but acknowledged that immigrants are a vital part of the state’s restaurant industry.

“We have members who are very concerned that a lot of their workforce is going to be gone,” says Jordan Traverso, director of communications for the CRA.

A spokeswoman from the National Restaurant Association said it does not endorse walkouts as a means of protest and encourages its members to work out a compromise with workers who wish to attend the demonstrations.

"We don't endorse walkouts as an association," said spokeswoman Chrissy Shott. "But we do sympathize with our employees."

John Gay, a senior vice president with the NRA, also spoke out earlier against similar walkouts in Dallas.

“We’re not for walkouts, but we do understand and sympathize with the goals,” he said in an April 7 Dallas Morning News story. “We’re on the same side as workers and organizers in the goals. But this particular action, when it’s disrupting business, we’re not in favor of that.”

One of the common goals shared by both the NRA and organizers of the May 1 demonstrations is opposition of H.R. 4437, a bill passed by the House of Representatives in December 2005 that includes neither a guest worker program nor amnesty for illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States.

The House bill does include stricter penalties for the employment of illegal aliens and makes it a crime to crime to "assist" an illegal immigrant to "remain in the United States... knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such person is an alien who lacks lawful authority to reside in or remain in the United States." In addition, illegal status under the bill would translate to a felony and providing aid--such as food, clothing, or shelter--to illegal aliens would be made a criminal offense.

Several versions of the bill are also being considered in committees of the Senate, which failed to reach an agreement on immigration reform before its two-week recess earlier this month. The Senate’s proposals reject many of the more controversial aspects of the House bill, such as the parts declaring illegal presence to be a felony and criminalizing aid to illegal aliens.

Activists hope the demonstrations, set to coincide with May Day, a date when workers around the world traditionally march for improved conditions, will sway Senators to include a plan for amnesty, as well.