Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the executive director of Voces De La Frontera—the Hispanic advocacy group that organized a “Day Without Latinos” in Milwaukee on Monday—says that she’s seen small businesses step up in recent years, in terms of taking part in closing and protesting. “They’re willing to take a great risk and sacrifice to use their collective economic might to send a message to politicians that they want their rights respected,” says Neumann-Ortiz. The “Day Without Latinos” on Monday counted over 120 local businesses that closed in support of the protest.
Businesses from a range of sectors have been speaking out against President Trump’s recent immigration policies, including tech companies, taxi drivers, bodega owners, and even apparel companies, such as Nike. And many restaurants have already been vocal in their concerns about what will happen under Trump: Last month, nearly 100 restaurants nationwide participated in designating themselves “sanctuary restaurants,” signaling to their immigrant employees that they would protect them.
The industry has good reason to worry, even on the business case alone. There are nearly 2.3 million foreign-born workers in the restaurant industry, making up 23 percent of restaurant employees. It’s hard to imagine the vibrant restaurant scenes in America’s cities without immigrants, and chefs have clearly taken notice. Research by the National Restaurant Association, which represents restaurant owners, shows that 45 percent of chefs are immigrants, and that immigrants are more likely to be business owners in the restaurant industry when compared with other sectors in the U.S. In an emailed statement, the association signaled that it did not support the walkout. On its website, the organization does support immigration reforms, including a clear path to legalization and has stressed the importance of foreign-born workers in the industry.
Labor groups have been more supportive. “Immigrants are the lifeblood of the restaurant industry,” said the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an advocacy group for restaurant workers, in a statement.
For workers who are striking at establishments with less supportive bosses, their actions could be punished. After the 2006 “Day Without Immigrants,” the National Labor Relations Board clarified its guidelines for political advocacy. While striking against unfair work conditions and activities for “mutual aid or protection” is legally protected, the NLRB concluded that protesting against immigration policies is not directly related to the employer, and thus employers can discipline their workers “neutrally,” the same way they would for someone who skipped work for other reasons.
The NLRB rules are a little hard to interpret, particularly in the current political climate. As such, some associations are warning employers that disciplining employees could result in an unfair-labor-practice charge. A notice sent by the Colorado Restaurant Association advised its members not to take action against employees participating in the strike beyond not paying those who decide not to show up, citing that such action could make for “a highly combustible situation.”