DC Business Owners Support Migrant-Led Strike

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Above Photo: Pizzeria Paradiso in Old Town Alexandria./Photo by Anne Meador

‘A Day Without Immigrants’

Immigrant workers around the country on February 16 flexed their economic muscle with a strike called “Un Dia Sin Inmigrante,” or “A Day Without Immigrants.”

Planned at a three-day conference in Boston on February 10, the series of boycotts and strikes are intended to gain leverage for foreign-born immigrants, visa holders and undocumented immigrants at a time when migrant communities are scapegoated and discriminated against.

Recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids have swept through cities, detaining and deporting many people who allegedly lack proper documentation to reside in the U.S.

“Now more than ever, it is important for the immigrant rights movement to have an offensive strategy,” said Maria Fernanda Cabello, a spokesperson for Movimiento Cosecha, in a press release.

“While it is important to focus on protecting undocumented families like mine from deportation and protecting our victories such as DACA, our movement can not win unless we show the American public that this country depends on immigrant labor to function,” she said.

Many of the strikers are restaurant workers, who are vital to the industry. In the Washington, DC area, business owners–some of them immigrants themselves–stepped up to support the strike, in spite of lost revenue.

Restauranteur and celebrity chef José Andrés gained national attention when he backed out of the contract to establish a restaurant in the new Trump International Hotel. A Spanish immigrant, he was incensed when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump called Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists” on the campaign trail.

Andrés tweeted his intention to close his three popular restaurants in Washington—Jaleo, Oyamel, and Zaytinya—and their spin-offs in Maryland and Virginia during the strike. On Thursday, the restaurants posted signs on the doors, reading, “In solidarity with the many immigrants on our staff who are passionate about participating in A Day Without Immigrants, we will be closed on Thursday, February 16. #ImmigrantsFeedAmerica”

Busboys & Poets owner Andy Shallal, also an immigrant, made it clear he was firmly solidarity with his employees as well. Bright yellow signs were posted on the facade of all six Busboys & Poets locations in DC, Virginia and Maryland. “Standing with our community,” they read. At lunch hour, numerous people tried to enter but found the doors locked.

For some restaurants, the strike appeared to be an opportunity to make a broader political statement. Restaurant sweetgreen posted this in support of its immigrant workers:

Without the hard work and grit of our team, our stores do not run, and that means we can’t make good on our promise to you, our guest. Our team members are the face of the brand, from our front lines to our kitchen—they’re the backbone of this company. … Our diversity is what makes this family great, and we respect our team members’ right to exercise their voice in our democracy.

Some restauranteurs stepped back into the kitchen to make things work—at least partially—while still voicing their support. Ruth Gresser, owner of Pizzeria Paradiso, closed all her pizzerias except the one at Dupont Circle, which remained “open in the spirit of community.” It is serving a partial menu.

The strike doesn’t seem to be ticking off customers. In fact, it could be earning goodwill. At Pizzeria Paradiso in Old Town Alexandria, a post-it was taped to the storefront. “Thank you for closing today,” it said.