Chicago’s Honey Butter Fried Chicken is among a couple of dozen restaurants across the country to sign onto a new “sanctuary restaurant” movement meant to offer safe workplaces for immigrants, Muslims and other communities they feel are under threat in the current political climate.
The movement is a joint project of ROC United, a national group that advocates for higher wages for restaurant workers, and Presente.org, whose mission is to “advance Latinx power” (Latinx is a gender-neutral alternative to Latino and Latina).
According to a news release Wednesday, sanctuary restaurants do not allow harassment of individuals based on immigrant or refugee status or race, religion, gender or sexual orientation; participate in peer networks to exchange ideas for protecting targeted workers; and agree to place prominent signs that state “SANCTUARY RESTAURANTS: A Place At the Table for Everyone” at their establishments.
ROC United co-founder and co-director Saru Jayaraman said in the news release that restaurant workers “are on the front lines of discrimination and hate in America.”
“While the restaurant industry suffers from a labor shortage, anti-immigrant and sexist rhetoric is now commonplace. Sanctuary Restaurants seeks to create the world we want — establishments free from hate and discrimination, where everyone has a seat at the table,” Jayaraman said.
ROC in November had urged signatures for an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump penned by RAISE, its subgroup of supportive employers, asking him to alleviate fear of deportation and harassment of immigrant workers in the restaurant industry.
“We must retain each and every employee and we depend heavily, especially in metropolitan areas, on immigrant workers,” the letter said. “Many have lived in this country for decades, paid taxes, and contributed to our industry; some acquire their own restaurants and provide even more jobs. The restaurant industry must maintain a robust pool of workers; we need immigrants and non-immigrants, and people of all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations.”
While it is unknown how immigration policy will take shape under Trump, blocking undocumented immigration was a major talking point of Trump’s campaign, and reports of anti-immigrant hostilities in communities following his win have left some people fearful. Trump said after the election that he wants to deport people with criminal records who are in this country illegally , a number he put at 2 to 3 million, and one of his position papers suggests mandating E-Verify, a program for confirming a worker’s legal status, for private employers nationwide.
The leisure and hospitality industry, of which restaurants are a part, is one of the largest employers of undocumented workers in the U.S., according to a Pew Research Center analysis of federal data.
Wednesday’s release announcing the sanctuary restaurants movement said dozens of restaurants have signed on and listed a sample of 24, which included Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Colors restaurants in Detroit and New York. Honey Butter, a casual spot in the Avondale neighborhood, was the only Chicago restaurant on the list.
“It’s a positive response to what at times has been not so productive or positive rhetoric in our national politics,” said Honey Butter co-owner Josh Kulp, who offers his workers paid sick and parental leave and advocates for pro-worker policies. Uncertainty about the future has caused a lot of “fear and anxiety” among workers in the industry, he said, and “what we’re trying to say to them and to our customers is that we’re a safe haven, and we’re a restaurant committed to putting our neighborhood and our community and our staff first.”
“I hope that good businesses all over the country already do these things,” Kulp added. “Sometimes it’s important to make it clear, especially in times when you feel that not everyone is on that same page.”
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