“Without Illegal Aliens, There is No Restaurant Business”
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
That’s a pretty bold statement made by Phanton Gourmet on facebook.
The promise of a job at an Upper Crust shop, passed by word of mouth from one villager to the next, offered the possibility of wages unheard of in Marilac [Brazil], a community of 4,140 people in the mountains of southeastern Brazil.
Over the past decade, dozens of men from Marilac have made the 7,500-mile trek, risking arrest, deportation, and in rare cases, death. And Upper Crust, founded by Sharon [MA] native Jordan Tobins in 2001, welcomed them.
Tobins needed lots of kitchen help; the Brazilians worked hard and didn’t complain about workweeks that routinely stretched to 80 hours. Marilac prospered as Upper Crust’s immigrant employees sent thousands of dollars home, and the company swiftly expanded from its original store in Beacon Hill to one upscale suburb after another.
Over time, however, this amicable but unlawful relationship would unravel. Documents from a recent class action lawsuit show that as Tobins expanded his pizza empire, he began to exploit his immigrant workers. The employees took their complaints to the US Department of Labor, which ordered the chain to dole out hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay. The department is now investigating wage violations at Upper Crust for a second time.
As always, comments in response to the Globe report, as well as on a related Boston Yelp Talk thread exploded with hundreds of missives ranging from the typical anonymous hate and vitriol to some very thoughtful and insightful observations.
Let’s name restaurants that deliver. I’ll start: Upper Crust Pizza.
What really got my attention was a comment made by Phantom Gourmet during the exchange of comments within the thread following the post:
Phantom Gourmet: I’m sorry to tell everyone, but without illegal aliens, there is no restaurant business. Hurting this company, or any other company, is not what our state needs right now.
In case Phantom Gourmet takes the post and related comments down, I have provided the comments in the order that they appeared:
Jimmy Machin: Didn’t Upper Crust just get busted for exploiting their workers?
Debbie Delia Fowle: Why is Phantom Gourmet assisting in advertising Upper Crust when they are under investigation for employment issues? I would think you would want to keep your distance until the end results come out
Bob Ullman: Exploitation of employees? Give me a break! If people are willing to work for X dollars an hour with no benefits then it’s their fault, not the employer. They are in a business, not a charity! I will second the vote for Upper Crust Pizza.
Phantom Gourmet: Bob, good for you, they have hundreds of employees and do a lot for charity and generate millions in tax revenue, I would think we would all be rooting for businesses to expand and hire. Plus, the pizza is really tasty.
Patrick Maguire: Yes, Bob, exploitation of their employees. Stop drinking the Kool Aid and read the full story. I don’t know anyone who supports or patronizes Upper Crust any more, even if they like their over-priced pizza.
Vincent Errichetti: Upper Crust broke no laws. The Boston Globe is just mad they didn’t buy advertising in their bankrupt news paper. BTW how does a bankrupt newspaper afford to send a reporter to South America???????
Lynn Boston: Anybody who hires illegals is part of the problem!!! I’ll never call the Upper Crust. Too many good pizza places out there who don’t break the law.
Phantom Gourmet: I’m sorry to tell everyone, but without illegal aliens, there is no restaurant business. Hurting this company, or any company, is not really what our state needs right now.
Patrick Maguire: “Upper Crust broke no laws.” Then why did they pay a 350K in back pay as ordered by the US Dept. of Labor? They are also defending a complaint from a former operations manager (7-yr. employee), the District Attorney’s Office and several other agencies. Take your head out of the sand.
Matthew Conley: Phantom is waaaaay off on supporting these scumbags. Please do not support these guys in any way. The excuse that “everyone does it” is no justification. Love PG but they are in the wrong keeping company with these clowns.
Patrick Maguire: “I’m sorry to tell everyone, but without illegal aliens, there is no restaurant business.” My hunch is that there are a lot of restaurant operators who would take exception to that statement.
Phantom Gourmet: Patrick, feel free to ask around, and get back to me. Of course, not every restaurant, but every restaurant will KNOW a restaurant.
Patrick Maguire: Phantom Gourmet- I’m working on a blog post about this that will include input from restaurant workers and operators. Please send me a message to let me know who I should be contacting to get official statements from the Phantom Gourmet responding to your comments in this thread. Thank you.
MC Slim JB: It is true that many restaurant hire undocumented workers. The issue with The Upper Crust is not in hiring them, but exploiting them. Caught doing it once, and now accused of continuing that pattern. We know they’re your sponsors, Phantom, but let’s not pretend folks don’t know that story.
Adam Castiglioni: Dear Phantom Gourmet- When will you drop the Upper Crust as a sponsor of yours? I fear that your company may become part of the whole controversy surrounding them soon. There are so many other great pizza places that you could bring on as advertisers that may not exploit their workers.
Obviously there are a lot of loaded issues here. Everyone who is, or has previously been in the restaurant business, knows that ‘illegal’ immigrant workers have been part of the fabric of restaurants for a long, long time. The vast majority are great workers, great people and an integral part of many restaurant families.
Restaurateurs turned a blind eye to the issue, especially in urban areas and border states, for several decades because it’s a win-win for the restaurant and their employees.
However, with immigration a hot button topic today, many restaurateurs are starting to address the issue proactively. Some are taking steps to retain immigrant workers by offering English classes and sponsoring workers in pursuit of their permanent resident alien status (green cards). Additionally, owners and managers are more carefully vetting their employees, when previously they would accept documents that they knew were suspect at best.
These complex issues raise several questions for candid, thoughtful discussion for customers, restaurateurs, workers and even other American business owners:
1. How prevalent is the use of illegal or undocumented workers in the restaurant business in the United States today? How about other businesses?
2. Are there some restaurants or businesses that would fail without illegal or undocumented workers?
3. Are these workers taking jobs away from legal residents who want them? If not, should we remain quiet as long no one is being taken advantage of?
4. How prevalent is the exploitation of immigrant workers? Do you personally know of any workers who are being taken advantage of?
5. How thorough is your restaurant or business when it comes to verifying the legal status of prospective employees before hiring them? How well do companies follow up with required documentation after an employee is hired?
6. What are highly-ethical restaurants doing to address the issue of illegal workers? Are some restaurants screening, coaching, training and counseling employees to ensure compliance with immigration laws and citizenship requirements? Are any restaurants/businesses going above and beyond to retain valuable immigrant workers?
7. How true is the old adage that illegal immigrant workers are critical to the success of American restaurants or businesses because legal workers are not willing to do the same work for minimum wage, or the wages paid to the illegal workers?
8. At what point do you as a consumer, vendor or business partner sever your relationship with a restaurant or business because of ethical issues such as exploitation of workers? Do you have any specific examples?
I will not patronize Upper Crust Pizzeria because of the Department of Labor findings and the on-going investigations.
I invite everyone to join the conversation. Please keep your comments respectful and civil. As always, comments will be monitored before being approved. Thank you.