With May Day quickly approaching, restaurant operators are bracing for possible walkouts and other activism around immigration, lawyers representing the industry said Thursday.
Following “A Day Without Immigrants,” on Feb. 16, immigration advocates have set their sights on May 1, or May Day, for further protests, according to lawyers at the Houston-based law firm of Monty & Ramirez LLP.
“May 1 has been a day of activism, particularly in the area of labor, for many years,” the firm said in an advisory. “This year, immigrant employees and business owners are being urged to stay home on May Day in an effort to demonstrate the important role immigrant workers play in the U.S. economy.”
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Jacob Monty, a partner in the law firm, said in an interview Thursday that restaurant operators can take steps to mitigate business disruptions on May 1.
“You need to talk to your employees this week about the walkout,” Monty said. “And you need to express your support for immigration reform.”
Monty added that the restaurant industry “doesn’t need to be taught that immigrants are valuable. It’s something that the industry and the business owners acknowledge.”
Employers can remind workers that immigrants are generally embraced and promoted in the restaurant industry, he said, and state and national organizations like the National Restaurant Association are supportive.
Monty said employers can proactively ask workers to show up.
“We have some restaurants in Austin [Texas] that are already planning to close that day, but businesses can’t keep closing during the immigrant protests,” he said.
If workers don’t show up on May Day, Monty said, “the last thing you want to do is a knee-jerk termination.”
That could provide bad publicity to consumers or alert Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and provoke a notice of intent to inspect I-9 forms for employment eligibility.
A termination could also run into protections provided by the National Labor Relations Act, he said, adding that employers are prohibited from taking adverse action against an employee for exercising rights to plan actions like this.
Monty’s firm noted that an employer who receives notice that an employee is encouraging others on Facebook to stay home on May 1 cannot discipline that employee for this behavior.
Employers can also remind employees of the company’s attendance policy in advance, Monty said.
“It is very important not to assume that employees who participate in a walkout or support executive action are undocumented workers,” Monty’s firm noted. “There is no legal basis to assume that employees who demonstrate, or display emblems and flags in solidarity with the protesters, are themselves undocumented workers.”
Monty said it is likely the May Day actions will be bigger than those in February.
“There are ways you can show support for immigration causes that don’t involve shutting down the restaurant,” he said, suggesting company donations to causes and organizations that are assisting immigrants.
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