Sunday, May 07, 2006

Astronomical errors

Astronomers say there wasn’t a full moon on May 1, but they should check again. That was the day thousands of immigrants flexed their economic might by not working or shopping, a peculiar social phenomenon to be sure. But the way some restaurants and lawmakers reacted was howlin’ lunacy.

Milford, Mass., for instance, officially made it illegal as of this summer for restaurants to hire illegal immigrants, according to local media reports. Hold on, because it gets even weirder: The new regulation wasn’t adopted by the town’s lawmakers or police, but by the board of health, which argued that immigration is a food-safety matter. Hiring an illegal will be akin there to under-chilling raw meat or using the same cutting board for chicken and scallions.

Not that the xenophobic approach to food safety will make much difference; by all accounts, the town is neither empowered nor motivated to enforce an immigration regulation, even if it’s masquerading as a defense against salmonella. It’s the thought that counts.

And what do the locals think about it? Well, the nearby town of Framingham is widely expected to put the same toothless law on the books in a matter of weeks. It, too, will recast its food inspectors’ nemesis from listeria to Latinos. At least theoretically.

But government officials weren’t the only ones who turned werewolf. Judging from local press reports, dozens of restaurants decided they weren’t going to be left short-staffed that day by employees’ participation in the demonstration. So they fired staffers who didn’t show for work, all but guaranteeing the establishments would be shorthanded the next day, too, if not longer. And re-staffing could take awhile, given the message those employers sent to potential hires, and immigrants in particular. Intolerance is seldom seen as the mark of a place where you’d like to work.

Consider, for instance, having a choice of working at the Chevys in Tracy, Calif., or taking a job at any other place in town. According to local news stories, the restaurant gave three employees time off to participate in the demonstrations. Eight others say they asked for permission but were canned after they didn’t show for their shifts. Four more staffers then quit in protest. And the whole incident was widely covered in the area from which the restaurant will have to recruit replacements.

Seventeen workers warned Café Septieme in Seattle that they wouldn’t be coming to work that day. They weren’t fired, but manager Vance Wolfe was, for telling owner Victor Santiago—ironically, a Latino—that the place would be closed.

At the other end of the spectrum were the places that decided not to open that day, pointing to the big “Closed” on their door as a sign of sympathy with the immigrants. Viewed one way, it was the smart response. If you won’t have enough workers to collect a day’s revenues, at least use the occasion to show you care for and support your employees. The response also provided a little oomph for the industry’s cause of liberalizing immigration laws and thereby easing its burden of finding sufficient hourlies.

But it just seems wrong to punish the employees who needed that day’s tips and wages. It’s one thing to protest or demonstrate, and quite another to lose some of your income because co-workers opt to exercise that right.

It wasn’t an easy situation for restaurant operators to navigate. And that made for one crazy day.

1 comment:

  1. Any employer who hires illegal workers should be fined, and on repeat offenses given jail time and larger fines and the illegal aliens deported to their home country with repeat offenders put on a road work crew in jail! As a American man who worked his way through college washing dishes and preparing food the jobs of America belong to Americans and legal immigrants only! The real reason employers hire illegal aliens is to not have to pay Federal & State Income Taxes & Social Security so that they can increase their profits and not pay the local market wages for employees!