Two months ago I wrote an article about wage slavery in the downtown, and just recently there has been a nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” protest illustrating my point.
Being the grandson of an illegal Italian immigrant who had trouble with the law, I have sympathy for the plight of the illegal immigrant. I also realize that in the cities, the economy, to a certain extent, relies on the ability to cheat the illegal immigrant on matters of wage, hours and conditions of employment because they have no redress in those matters.
Restaurant owners in New York, Boston, Detroit, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta and other major cities closed their doors in a show of solidarity with their workers. In many places, immigrants marched to demonstrate their role in the nation's economy. The show of solidarity was impressive.
The result was that hundreds were fired from their jobs.
At Ben's Kosher Delicatessen in Long Island, New York, twenty-one workers were fired when they returned to work the next day, according to Telemundo. Police escorted the workers from the restaurant. Almost all of the workers were undocumented and had worked there for years. The company did not like the fact that, after telling people not to leave work for the protest, that some of the employees had been threatened to participate, and nine have since returned to work, seen as victims of intimidation.
The reason that I used Ben’s as an example is the fact that my late friend Buddy Shaver lived in Boca Raton, and he took me there quite a few times (Get the fried kreplach with sautéed onions, best in the city). I always enjoyed the food and the fun times at the deli, and when I saw them in the news I was concerned. True to form, Ronnie Dragoon (Ben’s Owner) was quick to explain that it violated the safe workplace standard where no one could be bullied or harassed into participating in a walkout.
There were eighteen workers from Bradley Coatings Inc., located in the Nashville area, who were fired. Bradley Coatings said in a statement that the employees were told they would “need to show up for work (on Thursday) or they would be terminated,” because of the “time-sensitive” job they were assigned complete by contract.
Encore Boat Builders LLC, based out of Lexington, S.C., had twenty-one workers who didn’t show up for work Thursday. They have a “No Show, No Call in, No Job” policy, and they denied long term-employees, some legal, continued employment.
Whether you are eating at a restaurant, buying a boat, or hanging ten at a bar somewhere you have to think about the restaurants and businesses that shut down because of the call to action. What exactly is their motivation? It is hard to tell, but I believe I know why this occurred. I call it Foie Gras Syndrome!!
The French term means fatty liver, and it is an expensive delight in restaurants across the nation. Let’s forget about the ethical considerations of Foie Gras, as curators of the best Foie Gras ram pipes down the throats of male ducks twice each day, pumping up to 2.2 pounds of grain and fat into their stomachs, in a process known as “gavage.” The force-feeding causes the birds’ livers to swell to up to 10 times their normal size. The product is expensive.
Many of the restaurants in downtowns across America are borderline enterprises, providing enough to meet payroll and put a little in the college fund for the owner’s kids. The use of undocumented immigrant labor is paramount to the sustainability of the restaurant, because you can violate labor laws and subvert wage laws. It is no secret that this happens.
Labor is an overhead cost, and is subject to increasing the costs of the dining as they are a part of the equation of how restaurants determine their prices. Labor, rent, food purchasing and profit all figure in the scenario of a delicious meal. By cutting the labor costs, the food is eventually cheaper, putting them in a position to either be more competitive in the Foie Gras market, or send their kid to a more expensive college or university.
In the case of Encore and Bradley, both are in “right to work” states and the employees are “at will” and perhaps the employees should have been in a union and this would not have happened. The state offers no protection in these situations. Ben’s did not like the fact that people were threatened and perhaps that is relevant and perhaps it is not, because there were probably 50 people lining up for the Ben’s job who probably would work for less.
A hallmark of the capitalistic system is that people are motivated by self-interest.
In an article I wrote six months ago, I outlined how wage slavery was rampant, and was not enforced as a human trafficking problem because of the pressures from groups not wanting to denigrate the issue of human sex trafficking, so some laws do not apply.
This leads to abuses, and enables work for less than minimum wage jobs, guaranteed under the law. People become wage slaves, an underclass, and are perceived as such. Why do we allow such a thing? How could we even understand why we perceive their interactions as “less than”?
By supporting these kinds of establishments, we are encouraging the worst kinds of discrimination and callous behavior. The next time that you are ready to order Foie Gras or another rare treat and real delicacy, think of the people washing your dishes there, mopping the floors or cleaning the bathrooms. The system, as it is currently structured, is not equitable to these people although the price of the Foie Gras may be nice.
Maybe working in downtowns has made me a little callous, or maybe it is my background in civil rights and union organizing that makes protests like this unpalatable. I have seen the pain on the faces and the desperation in their hearts, as I initiate revitalization efforts in downtowns.
Barry Cassidy is a freelance grant and economic development consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.