Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where's the Beef?

There was an interesting piece on NBC News, which seems to have originated from Telemundo, with which they are affiliated. I'm a Long Island resident, and what caught my attention was that 25 employees had been fired for taking part in the Day Without Immigrants. The piece has since been corrected:

Telemundo 47 initially reported that at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers in Long Island, New York, 25 workers were fired Friday when they returned to work.

The restaurant disputed the report, saying in a statement, "In anticipation of 'A Day Without Immigrants,' Ben's Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers, posted a formal statement to its Greenvale employees on Wednesday, February 15, expressing support for their human rights and requesting that they fill their shift as scheduled on Thursday, February 16."

The statement continued, "While some employees opted to participate in the walkout, several others chose to work and, as a result, the leaders of the protest put pressure on the others to walk out, even threatening physical harm to colleagues choosing to work their shifts."

As a result, the company owner "found this to be a cause for immediate dismissal of the employees who made the threats. All other employees involved with the walkout were, and still are, invited to return to their positions with the company."

On social media, representatives of Ben's now say there was only one employee who made threats and was terminated. They've fought back in the press getting favorable coverage in both Long Island Business News and Newsday. On my Facebook feed there's a pretty interesting discussion, and it's tough to come to a definite conclusion. It was a lot easier when it said 25 were fired.

It's more complicated now. I'm not sure, though, how you express support for human rights and tell people not to participate in exercising them. Also, Ben's has now revised its story about immediately dismissing "the employees who made the threats" and now says it was just one employee. A lot of this sounds very familiar to me. It sounds a lot like what people say when attempts are made to unionize.

We don't really know the full story here, and it's safe to suppose we never will. But I've heard lot of very similar stories about unions intimidating workers. In fact, I've even been accused of it. When I see supervisors breaking the contract by demanding teachers do things they have no right to demand, I've been told that teachers were afraid to do their jobs. It's odd, because the most I cause trouble for working teachers is never. I'm at my job an hour or more before I need to be almost every day. It's often the only time I can work uninterrupted. But just because I'm crazy doesn't mean anyone else has to be.

I guess it's a fair assumption that these workers are not unionized. Under NY State law they are therefore "at-will" employees who can be fired for pretty much anything under the sun. Or they can be fired for no reason at all. Health benefits? Not necessary under NY State law.

I've got an issue or two with union leadership, and I may mention it on this page from time to time. But no one I represent will be fired for taking one day off. No one I represent needs to fight about it, or intimidate anyone toward any political point of view. Unionization is an uphill battle in an environment like this, where you can lose your job for taking one day off, and that's true whether Ben's fired one person or 25.

Ben's has argued that their PR person is an immigrant. That's fine, but it's an appeal to authority rather than addressing the issue. They've argued that their leader is politically progressive. That's another appeal to authority. Where's the truth?

It's probably somewhere in the middle. One of my students approached me and told me she would not be in on that day. I respected that and excused her. Of course, you could argue that this didn't affect my bottom line. Of course, my bottom line is way closer to the bottom than that of a man who owns seven restaurants from here to Florida, and I can't imagine closing one day would move his anywhere near mine.

I'm prejudiced toward working people, and also toward immigrants, who I serve every day of my working life. I'm also becoming increasingly prejudiced toward food I prepare myself at home. I'll have to give a lot of thought before I go back to Ben's.

What do you think?
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