Last Thursday was supposed to be a day without immigrants.
All across the United States, foreign-born citizens and aliens alike showed their discontent with the Trump administration by staying home instead of showing up to work. Students skipped class, fast food crewmembers didn’t hit the time clock, and doctors didn’t don their signature white coats. From the Lower East Side of Manhattan to South Central LA, immigrants strove to make a statement: this is what would happen if we were gone.
Business owners reacted with mixed feelings on Friday. Some restaurants printed messages of solidarity in the end space of their receipts, while others fired employees who hadn’t showed up their shifts. Twelve workers at the I Don’t Care Bar in Oklahoma were told over text to enjoy the day off, as they and their families would be having many more as newly-unemployed persons. A number of other companies fired strikers on grounds that they had violated no-call-no-show policies.
According to a summary piece in The Atlantic, businesses which supported “A Day Without Immigrants” prepared in advance to be short-staffed. Matt Carr of The Little Red Fox in Washington, D.C., received a note from kitchen staff the day before workers refused to come back – they’d prepared fruit salad and all the dishes they could to make up for their absence on Thursday.
“Immigrants are the backbone of this country and the heart and soul of the service industry,” Carr said in an interview with CNN. “Without them, our small business would crumble. They are also a part of the family here at Little Red Fox, and I, too, am worried about their future under this administration.”
Other employers were not so sympathetic. Bradley Coatings told Tennessee’s Channel 5 News that they regretted having to fire immigrant staff, but maintained that some workers hadn’t called in to tell anyone they’d be taking the day off.
The National Labor Relations Board urged bosses to exercise caution when deciding whether to discipline workers who had gone on strike. Charlotte Garden, an associate professor of law at Seattle University, explained to Bourree Lam of The Atlantic that people have the right to take leave from work to protest together for the purpose of “mutual aid.” Even if Trump’s rhetoric and executive edicts don’t tie straight to the cook line at a restaurant franchise, the umbrella of what is protected by labor law is large.
About 100 workers were fired nationwide by the time Thursday’s protest had drawn to a conclusion.
Matt Carr spent part of the 16th working dishes and helping out his smaller-than-usual staff in the kitchen. He told CNN that without his immigrant employees from Guatemala and Venezuela, his entire operation could fall apart.
No matter what the fallout may be, America needs to realize that immigrants compromise almost a full fifth of the workplace. Some came to the United States legally and many did not.
The one thing many have in common is an increasing feeling of unease with the direction their country is taking to for those who have sought to call it home.
Immigrants in the Workforce, State by State and Industry By Industry