“Without Illegal Aliens, There is No Restaurant Business”

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 12/28/2010

That’s a pretty bold statement made by Phanton Gourmet on facebook.

A firestorm was ignited when a recent front page Boston Globe story reported that Upper Crust Pizza, a rapidly-growing local chain, hired and exploited illegal immigrant workers from Brazil.

According to the Globe:

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.

In the midst of Sunday night’s blizzard, the debate continued on facebook after The Phantom Gourmet posted the following:

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.

36 Responses to ““Without Illegal Aliens, There is No Restaurant Business””

  1. Vanessa says:

    I worked at California Pizza Kitchen and am pretty sure a good number of the kitchen staff were illegals. Managers would have to turn a blind eye to slightly off-color documents in order to staff the kitchen. And I can’t say they were taking jobs away from “Americans” who wanted them…no one who spoke English as their first language ever applied to work the BOH.

    After seeing Food Inc I’m convinced we’d all starve to death without illegal immigrants working in the food industry. Shame on us for not giving them the respect they deserve.

  2. Frederick says:

    I’m always a bit puzzled by the outpouring of vitriol and unfiltered hatred from some people on this topic. I don’t really have any strong views myself, one way or the other. I do find it generally curious and a bit frustrating that as an employer, I’ve hired dozens, if not hundreds, of legal immigrants with merely my signature on an H1B visa application. I’ve even been invited to attend their swearing-in ceremony as they eventually make their way to full citizenship. And yet, there is not one other country in the world where I can legally work, despite being offered extremely high paying, high-profile jobs on a weekly basis. Somehow, that doesn’t really seem fair.

    With that being said, and having reviewed this article and some of the comments that have been made, I’d probably come down on the side of boycotting any restaurant which has been convicted of mistreating their workers in any way, regardless of the employment status of those workers. I’m discouraged that Upper Crust, like MANY other restaurants and businesses, has allegedly decided that the best way to maximize their profit margin is to break the law. As a consumer, I’m quite sure that I can afford to pay an extra $1 or $2 for a fine pizza which is prepared in accordance with the law and respect for basic human rights.

    If the day ever comes when I cannot afford this extra $1 or $2, I will choose to stay home with a boboli crust.

  3. Nathan says:

    I like and respect your post. I think these are questions that concern a great many of us as consumers and as people who believe anyone, legal or otherwise, deserves to be treated like humans and not just labor.

    I would suggest that restaurant owners and operators looking to help their staff with English and the citizenship process should look for programs like this one in Brighton, MA: http://www.csjboston.org/literacy_connection.htm

    The Literacy Connection has done a lot of work helping those who don’t want to remain here illegally and want to become citizens of this country. There are many successful stories about their work and about the Sister’s themselves. If we are ever going to truly ‘fix’ this ‘problem’, we need to do with respect and basic human rights included.

  4. Cathy says:

    As I said in a private message, many can be hurt in this topic.
    I have worked in many restaurants in Washington state. Sometimes I worked with staff who may have been illegal workers. Notice that I do not use the word, “alien”. To me though it is in general usage in the US there is a connotation of being from outer space.

    I have worked in restaurants and for catering companies who exploited workers of all types.

    We live in a time when for many who live in Central and South America the promise of our US money which some of our neighbors turn their noses up at for the work.. is life sustaining itself for those who live in poverty. For people with families and no income or education this US money with all it brings in hardship- even risking their lives to come to work these jobs are God-sends and I am ddeply hurt about their exploitation.

  5. Chris says:

    I don’t know if restaurants perse would be out of business, but I can say that the farms that supply the restaurants would be.

  6. Cathy (and everyone else)- Thank you for your thoughtful comments so far. We can all learn so much from each other through civil discourse.

    I was very careful not to use the words ‘aliens’, and you articulated why perfectly. It just doesn’t feel right calling a human being an alien.

  7. Ron Newman says:

    It’s not for me to care whether a restaurant hires citizens or non-citiizens. But if the restaurant is known to exploit its employees by not paying fair wages, I’m not going to eat there.

  8. Nathan- Thank you very much for sharing that link. It’s one thing to have a conversation and raise awareness, it’s another to offer concrete solutions and take action.

    Please keep the proven programs and great ideas coming.

  9. beaneater says:

    Will somebody clarify something for me, please? Is this “the real” Phantom Gourmet or someone posing as?
    I cannot believe that a business owner would outwardly defend illegal immigrant workers!!!! What other sort of improprieties do the Andelmans also support???

  10. I was walking by the other night, a few days after the article in the globe came out. Charles Street’s upper crust was packed, and i couldn’t help but think…WHY are people still going there? Sure, many restaurants hire illegal immigrants, but UC went FAR beyond just that.

  11. beaneater says:

    This is one of my favorites!

    “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”

    So not offering potential illegal employees appropriate wages and benefits because they have no voice against you is not exploitation??? C’mon BOB!!!

  12. Mike R says:

    I’ve worked in the restaurant industry all over the country and there are undocumented workers everywhere. The people that exploit those workers are the worst sort of employers. I have encountered different owners that wanted me to fill one liquor brand with a cheaper one, wanted me to lie about their beef being Kobe, I have been told to adjust hours so that employees wouldn’t hit overtime and that it didn’t matter if “illegals” worked longer hours because they were paid under the table. In both instances I started looking for another job and told people about those experiences. It is immoral to abuse those workers and it happens quite frequently. Hiring illegal workers is also unfair to the immigrants who go through legal channels. It is very difficult to staff a kitchen without immigrants but I see that as being a political issue. The US needs to allow more restaurant workers in legally.

  13. Leslie says:

    This is a complex issue that I have had first hand experience with as a manager. Back in the 90s the INS came after the large chain I worked for and I had the frightening experience of watching my mostly Brazilian kitchen staff walk off the shift 15 minutes before we opened for lunch. The company was cleared of all wrong doing, but it is nevertheless and experience I’ll never forget.
    What really is abhorrent about the restaurant industry is the need for profit over human dignity. Even documented workers have to face the occasional indignities of having to choose between coming to work sick and staying home because of the practice of unpaid sick time (and the manager’s wrath when you come down with the flu.) Other workers in other industries never have to worry about such things. (And this includes managers…no sick time there, either.)
    We have fought long and hard in this country to change labor laws. Its time for the restaurant industry to catch up with the times. All of us have a story of whichever generation came to this country to work hard to make a better life, and we should continue the tradition for all…

  14. Leslie says:

    Sorry, I just want to amend my last statement…it should say most of us have a story…I am remiss to not regard the generations of African slaves whose bodies and labor were stolen and exploited…my apologies.

  15. Jonathan says:

    I don’t at all advocate exploiting workers or hiring illegal immigrants, but the math is easy …

    Restaurant profit margins are very, very slim, and many places truly would not make it if they were paying a fair wage to every employee. They might be able to sustain themselves once established, but might be losing money hand over fist while trying to open.

    Beyond the subject of illegals, look at cooks making “day rate” pay, which, averaged out over the course of the frequently long work days they have, can easily fall far below the Federal Minimum Wage, much less the state minimum in places like California. I’ve worked in these places, where line cooks are paid something like $80/day, and they work 12- to 15-hour shifts. Paying prep cooks and dishwashers even less…

    Simple fact is, the vast majority of diners (I’m not talking about “foodies” or bloggers/Yelpers, here, but rather your average Joe Schmoe) don’t care a whit about the costs of running a restaurant or the slim profit margins involved, they just want the best food for their buck, and those restaurants that can offer that are going to be successful.

    Restaurants will eventually have to clean up their act and abide by labor laws as all these class action suits we’ve seen over the last few years sink in. But when they do, I fear for how many restaurants will fail when they have to raise their prices and risk losing customers. And I fear more for the (I believe) inevitable slowdown in entrepreneurial restaurateurs willing to open new places.

  16. Bob says:

    This topic could be the source of a book, so my posting will only cover a few points…The notion that the restaurant industry would implode if all illegals were deported is an urban myth perpetuated by some savvy people…. I opened a resturant last year in NYC , put an ad on Craigslist, and received 503 total resumes in less than 72 hours. More trickled in as time went by. In the ad, I clearly stated that authorization to work in this country was an essential part of the hiring process, and proper documentation was needed. Being around for a while you can tell the fakes, even the good ones. I also worked at places that did hire illegals, and, in the end, there was always trouble, whether it be that the Mexicans don’t get along with the Peruvians, or the Chilieans don’t get along with the Hondurans… The cliques that form are not healthy for the long term success of the restaurants. And forget about bringing on an African American into a group of Latinos or Hispanics. The false accusations by each group is tired and old…And many do not know of the El Heffe, pay to play routine… Where the senior illegal will start to complain to the manager about a particular person if they are not “payed”, whether it be cash, a case of beer, a bottle of booze, or the worst shift or job….why these restaurant owners dont seek out State employment agencies, or some of the other community based employment organization. I hope they all get their comeuppance. We need to get rid of all the illegals, once and for all…It’s pure greed on the owners part.

  17. Lou says:

    Hiring illegal workers and taking advantage of them is two entirely different things. I do believe many kitchens would be in a big jam if all documentation was really scrutinized carefully. How many dishwashers are really citizens? Having a different pay rate, time off schedule, benefit package etc. for illegal workers is morally wrong. Work is work… whoever does it and that person deserves a decent wage. Perhaps UC would learn a lesson by a boycott.

  18. adrienne says:

    Up next: Hair & nail salons, day spas, retail stores, hotels & nursing homes!
    Full of undocumented illegal immigrants.
    At a recent interview at a high-end establishment on Newbury Street, I was offered $7/hour.
    The minimum wage in MA is $8/hour.
    Rosarita, who is here illegally from Mexico, will do the job for $5/hour.
    She will also qualify for MA Health, food stamps & section 8 housing.
    If employers were forced to pay a fair living wage to American citizens, the state of MA could save money by not having to pay for health care, food & housing for illegal immigrants.
    As a veteran employee of the restaurant industry, I truly believe that only hiring legal workers will greatly impact the industry.

  19. Cathy says:

    Thank you Ron N. and Mike R. for your comments. I have worked in the industry many years- always a server- I like being a server, though supervision and management have been offered and proposed- I wanted to and have always kept my career in education first.

    Some restaurant managers ‘adjust’ hours of all staff. Those who are working without legal papers have less ability ( due to language and also the sheer need of the job) to protest and thus may be taken advantage of. I have worked with Mexican workers whose kitchen job shifts were VERY long- I never questioned it at the time.
    In WA our fruit is picked mostly by Mexican immigrants – no one else does. As a high school student I spent 2 summers picking peaches, apricots, grapes, prunes.. only our little college bound group among the others. I am glad I had the experience but feel shamed when I see the huts in which workers lived.

  20. Faith says:

    Bob hit the nail on the head. Bottom line – hiring illegals is illegal. Let’s begin with stopping the restaurant owners from doing something illegal and then there will be no problems with illegal workers complaining. The whole issue is so much larger than restaurants. When did it become “OK” to continue to do illegal things in this country. Why are so many illegals able to get here, work here, collect welfare? As Bob states, it is a myth that you can’t hire legal people. Will you make a little less profit – sure, but don’t use that as an excuse that you “need” to hire cheaper help. As a past owner of 2 food establishments, I would NEVER have considered hiring someone illegal. So, perhaps we should start coming down much harder on the owners who do…they are breaking the law. I know – very hard to do in this world of “no consequences” for your actions!

  21. Frequent Diner says:

    Absolutely disgusted at the people defending the Upper Crust.

    BTW I’ve eaten their pizza twice.

    Mostly i noticed that it was Really Super Expensive!
    And it Tasted Just Like Pretty OK Pizza!
    And everyone eating it thought it was So Very Special!

    Folks, i make a hell of a pizza at home for a few dollars and so can you.

    WTF with defending the abuse of workers?

    The whole reason unions came into existence is because hungry people with children to feed, who need shelter and clothing, will work for whatever is offered. This leads to an inevitable downward spiral, with workers bidding DOWN as they try to get whatever work they can… and that’s why there are wage and labor laws in every sane, mature nation and every locale.

  22. Mike Q says:

    Patrick … you’ve done it again. What a terrific, thought-provoking post. Your list of eight key points to consider (from “How prevalent is the use of illegal workers in the restaurant business” to “At what point do you as a consumer sever your relationship with a restaurant”)is right on the money. Have you heard back from Phantom Gourmet? I’d be interested in their comments now after reading your post.

  23. herman says:

    What everybody fails to consider in this discussion is the whole picture. Why are so many lawsuits filed against so many restaurants/restaurateurs, including some high profile operators such as Batali/Bastianich? FOR THE MONEY!!

    While it is true that exploitation of workers legal and illegal occurs more than a little, the fact is lawyers from all over the country are now soliciting complaints from employees past and present that have the potential to become lucrative class actions that exploit arcane and outmoded laws.

    It is a simple fact that in most restaurants (and this may not apply to the pizza chain in question)FOH srevice staff (waiters,
    bartenders, bussers) keep an unfair proportion of the all the
    monies generated by the restaurant. The distribution of tips being the basis for many of the lawsuits currently affecting restaurants across the country.

    In today’s economy of escalating costs, lowered prices and spending cutbacks by customers, it is increasingly difficult for owners to make the kind of profit that justifies the long hours and hard work of ownership. Often, it may seem that the only way to make that extra bit of income (and I’m explaining here, not justifying)is to simply go with the flow, and hire some of the
    “questionably” documented workers who present themselves at the kitchen door each day. This is simply the status quo in the restaurant business at the present time and has been for decades.

    The solution? Owners should be allowed/required to control all of the revenue of the restaurant, pay taxes, health benefits and
    fair wages to all employees. Yes, waiters would make less, but the owners would be able to pay BOH employees fairly without having to “cheat”. The best way to do that would be to ad a service charge (NOT a gratuity) to each check, similar to the service compris found in many European countries.

    The greatest obstacle here would be the dining public, No restaurateur wants to be the first to tell Americans that they have lost their god given right to determine the worth of their
    servers (in other words, tip).

    It would be a hard sell, waiters won’t like it very much either,
    but the fair distribution of income earned in a restaurant is the only way to really and finally address the inequities that have existed in the system for many, many years.

  24. If you are like a lot of people you can simply overlook this. Don’t give up your morals for anything. This will lead to a sad and unfulfilling life.

  25. p.mac says:

    The generations of African Americans who were bought and sold are all long dead, as well as the men who enslaved them. There is no argument regarding this unthinkable evil that once existed. My family, both sides, emigrated to the U.S. long after the emancipation of the slaves, and got a raw deal once they set foot on American soil, for many many years. Although they weren’t “undocumented” immigrants, they still had to endure the stigma of being a “foreigner”, and lived in lower class neighborhoods where anybody with an accent was forced to rent.

    These “ghettos” weren’t pits of dispair, by any means. My grandmother formed the first restaurant union in Boston during the great depression, having been denied a job as a school teacher in Boston, due to the fact that she was newly married. Pregnancy alone would get you fired from the education profession, as well as nursing. Every single generation of Americans wants to pull up the planks on the ship, and say… “We’re all full now, go away”. This is not a new idea, and never has been, ever.
    We must always keep in mind that all of our families who landed on these American shores came from somewhere else at some point. Everybody needs a hand up… not a hand out.
    People who are willing to work hard should be shown a little respect. They are not trying to steal jobs from anybody, and their simple goal is to improve the quality of their own lives, something that we can all understand. They are not criminals, by any means due to their status. Hope and despair was what lead them here, not greed. They all deserve a break, many working 80 hours a week with no complaints, but no benefits either. Let’s leave history where it belongs… in history books. Everybody got a raw deal somewhere down the line. Why not focus on the present and future? Let’s deal with the reality of things, ’cause they sure as hell ain’t gonna change.

  26. It’s a sad fact to look at, but it’s just about true. Every “upscale” and internationally themed restaurant I go to now has a Latin presence in the kitchen.

  27. Mike G says:

    Patrick, this has been one of your best topics so far and a well defended argument.

    I can only offer my opinion here and not backed by sources, but I’ve worked/”lived” in restaurants for 20 years and I’ve never seen a dishwasher or busperson who wasn’t a high school kid, immigrant (illegal or legal), or handicapped. I too don’t buy into someone well trained and educated taking a minimum wage job or a “down and dirty” job at $10 or $11 per hour (a rate that my interns survive quite well on). Of course this changes as dependents come into the picture. What percentage of 99 weekers (those whose employment benefits are running out) will opt for such a position when they have no more options and can’t find a job at their education level and former pay grade?

    I’ve been lucky to work for a few great restaurant groups in the past 10 years that treat their immigrant workers with respect, something not very difficult to do. In some cases many of the longer duration employees are sponsored for a green card (why sponsor someone who has only been there for a few months anyway?). They are given a raise based on performance annually and given the same accrued vacation and sick time as anyone else at the hourly wage level. They even come to the holiday party and win some door prizes! This pays off for us in motivated, honest, hard working members of our restaurant family who, when it’s decided eventually to move on, supply us with a steady field of replacements after they’re gone.

    This issue started out as criticism towards the Andelman brothers and their mafia like favoritism for their buddies who spend money on sponsorships. Pretty much anyone in the “Great 8” is in this club or anyone else who appears on the show week after week pushing their mediocre pizza, pasta, bread, etc. (Obviously I have issues with PG) What Upper Crust has done is unnecessary and greedy. If they want to put their pizzas in national supermarket chain freezers this isn’t the way to do it.

  28. Tom Callahan says:

    In my view a number of good points have been made. Regarding illegal workers, it is wrong and unethical to mistreat them. It was also illegal to hire them in the first place. The argument that restaurants cannot stay in business without exploiting illegal workers is ridiculous.
    What other business gets to choose which laws it will obey? What of the restaurants that follow the laws, legitimately sponsor foregin workers for a valid work visa and pay benefits to their full time workers? Should they be put at a competitive disdvantage for following the rules and treating people decently?
    I am not qualified to answer Patricks 8 questions (which are excellent) but I have a few of my own.
    Would you patronize a restaurant which you knew employed illegal workers?
    Would you work for a restaurant that employed illegal workers and treated them poorly?
    Would you pay more to eat at a restaurant that offered its employees benefits and health insurance?
    Do you think a restaurant could make more money and increase business by advertising the above?
    Kudos for an interesting topic.


  29. Thanks to everyone for adding your thoughtful comments to the discussion.

    Tom C. -Great questions.

  30. Chris says:

    1. Rampant in any industry where positions requiring manual labor and low costs.

    2. Absolutely

    3. Remains to be seen. With unemployment where it is currently, you would hope that legal residents/citizens would be willing to take these positions. whether they would be willing to take them at the low pay scale provided remains to be seen.

    4. Extremely prevalent. Whether one thinks this is reasonable or not is another question. While ethically it may not be acceptable, are illegal immigrants who have flagrantly flouted the laws of this country deserving of the same protections afforded to legal residents/citizens.

    5. Extremely thorough at my institution.

    6. Unsure

    7. While this use to be a reasonable assumption, with the current economic situtation I can’t say that’s reality anymore.

    8. Never, as a business owner, my first responsibility is to my employees and my bottom line. If that means getting anything (product/service) at a reduced price I will take it. It’s not my job as consumer to regulate the practice and cost points will influence my decisions. Strictly business. However, I’m not going to put my business in jeopardy by utilizing illegal hiring practices however. If a business in direct competition with me is, I will notify the appropriate entities regarding workers status to eliminate that advantage.

  31. Katie says:

    It is absolutely true that there would be no restaurant industry without immigrants, from the most basic of food production to the highest levels of fine dining. As for the impact of illegal immigrants specifically, I’ll refrain from commenting. However, I do have a story in response to: “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?”

    When I was about 18, I worked at a crêpes place on a street referred to as “Little Tokyo West” (because it was west of L.A.’s Little Tokyo and there were only about 3 or 4 blocks of mostly Japanese businesses rather than a whole neighborhood). It was very small, so only one employee ever worked at a time. For my first couple weeks, the way my shifts worked out I barely encountered another employee.

    One day, it had been busy enough that I didn’t have a chance to eat, so when my shift ended I made myself a crêpe and chatted with the girl working after me. She told me that all the other employees were international students working illegally. Honestly, that didn’t bother me, but the rest of what she told me did. She said that the owner often paid them late or not at all. She said that several of them hadn’t been paid in nearly a month. Because the employees had student visas, they weren’t in the country illegally, but they were working illegally. That meant that they had no legal recourse, and the owner knew that. Some of them continued to work there simply to ensure that they got their overdue paycheck before quitting.

    This was exploitation, straight-up. I called the next day to let him know I wouldn’t be working there any longer.

  32. Cathy says:

    HA! Very funny Tom!
    Many other businesses choose which laws to obey or disregard.
    From banking (illegal fees and foreclosures) to retail (not following state and federal break laws, to education (layoffs, evaluations) to medical (malpractice).

  33. Me, The JerBear says:

    You have scored a victory for restaurant industry employees of Boston by raising this debate. Good job, mate!

    ROCNY describes two different types of restaurant employers: High Road Employers who pay their employees an honest wage and treat them with dignity and respect and still operate profitably, and Low Road Employers who dick their employees over at every turn and operate with shady business practices (like importing illegal immigrants and paying them way below minimum wages). Clearly this Upper Crust place is a Low Road Employer and their exploitation of their workers should be brought to light.

    And as for Phantom Gourmet’s comment that without illegal immigrant workers there would be no restaurant business–that is just patently not true. There are many restaurants that do not exploit their workers like that who make a healthy profit even in this current economic climate, mine included. I can understand wanting to back up your sponsors but maybe PG should look into getting some better sponsors. This ‘If they aren’t American citizens then they don’t deserve to be treated like human beings’ attitude doesn’t help anybody. When you get right down to it unless you are from a Native American tribe then YOU are or would have been considered at one time to be an illegal immigrant, so let’s all ease up on the bigotry. It just makes you look like a xenophobic redneck and I should know–I’m from Georgia.

    To Herman–good luck with that whole ‘Abolish the tipping practice’ movement. FlatEarthers that have proposed this in the past haven’t exactly met with a lot of success . . . and for good reason. People in the service industry have to deal with people who AREN’T in the service industry and THAT’S why they get paid more than the fry cooks. Don’t think my argument holds any merit? Work a couple of shifts on the floor of any dining room in America and you will see that servers and bartenders earn every penny they make and more.

    Patrick once again congrats and Bueno Trabajo, Amigo!

    Dignity and Respect
    Me, The JerBear

    Next time you get a chance to get on the radio or tv take it. There aren’t enough of us restaurant worker advocates out there.

  34. Scott Hoskins says:

    @ p mac
    Don’t be silly, of course undocumented workers are criminals. They are here illegally, hence the criminal status. Please don’t equate them with legal immigrants. That said, does this mean they should be exploited? Absolutely not! They are trying to make a better life for themselves, and that is a good thing. This country is a good place for that ( That’s why they come here) but we need to have a better immigration policy to save them from this. The things that are done to illegals are deplorable,and while this type of exploitation is bad, a lot worse things happen to them. Fining The Upper Crust is a good start, though.

  35. Mrs T. says:

    The food handlers card for all food employees hired from this point on is only a way to get the illegals out of the food industry to open doors and jobs for the young and old who have lost everything to the bad economy thanks to our government.
    I for one will watch the economy crash completely. The cost of goods and increasing wages for poor work ethics that are now all we can find to hire with out the illegals who do have a work ethic and they are paid good for there hard work. I have a year left before my lease is up in my business then I plan to close my business adding to the unemployment to Calif. I dont feel bad about leaving with out the money I could make in selling. I am tired of government controlling every aspect of my business let them hired the ignorant young with no work ethic. I am done with the BS.There are allot of illegal young people people here who because their parents were illegal when they came here and they were born here they cant work here either, yet they value a job and give a good days work for the same wages you would pay for a legal worker, I for one am closing soon and could careless about the communist ways we are being hearded twards. Let the government take over our business and create jobs for the people who dont want to work but sit on thier lazy asses collecting welfare. I wont hire them I would rather quit and not be bothered trying to train the untrainable.

  36. Jason says:

    I have more than a decade of restaurant experience as a waiter, bartender, manager, bus boy, cook, and delivery driver. Thankfully I only have one week left in this industry (finally got a degree and found a professional job). It is true that many illegal workers cook the food and wash the dishes in many restaurants. I know this because I speak fluent Spanish and have befriended many of them. Actually they are the reason I was able to learn Spanish. I picked up most of it just from listening to them and studying on my own. I live on the Mexico/Texas border and have seen the front line of the immigration battle first hand. I don’t believe that they are taking jobs away from Americans because I don’t know any Americans who apply for those jobs. College towns are really the only exception I’ve seen to that rule. The US has turned a blind eye with to illegal immigration for so long because the government wants a pool of 2nd class citizens they can exploit. I get a kick out of non Spanish speakers thousands of miles away from the border who hold strong opinions about immigration despite knowing nothing about the immigrants themselves or the conditions in many Latin American countries.

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