Immigrants' Bosses Hope 'La Marcha' Is Over

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Most employers allowed their immigrant workers to participate in Monday's huge rallies, as many said they are generally sympathetic to the cause of immigration reform. But if protests continue through the summer and companies lose business, tensions could erupt with immigrant workers.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets over the past few days to call for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. The rallies were also meant to send a message about the size and importance of the immigrant work force. As NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, some businesses lost sales because of the rallies, and others had to cut production because so many workers took the day off.

JIM ZARROLI: Across North Carolina yesterday poultry workers, hotel maids, textile factory employees all stayed home from work so they could attend the rallies. It was a flexing of newfound political muscle, but it was also a way of reminding people that immigrant labor, legal or not, is a pillar of the U.S. economy. In Wilmington speakers cried, we're the ones who do the dirty work. Edgar Romero was one of the protestors.

EDGAR ROMERO: We're not here just to be criminals, nothing like that. We just want to work and help and just move on, you know?

ZARROLI: The rally's impact was felt throughout the state. Some stores and restaurants in Charlotte reported doing less than normal business, and said some workers failed to show up because of the march. It was the same in other places, especially in industries with large immigrant workforces like construction and meatpacking. The beef processing company Excel said so many workers attended the rallies that production slowed in plants in Kansas and Nebraska. Tyson Foods actually closed some of its plants for the day to give workers a chance to go. Immigration lawyer David Whitlock of Atlanta says many employers support more liberal immigration policies and are sympathetic to the protestors.

DAVID WHITLOCK: They're also from an employee relations and a public relations standpoint, I don't think many employers want to be viewed as harsh or as having fired people for attending a rally that's in their own interests.

ZARROLI: But even some of those who supported the rallies were less than happy about their impact. In Dallas and other cities some groups called for an economic boycott, encouraging immigrants to stay out of stores and restaurants in an effort to underline their spending power. Even when there was no boycott some businesses took a hit. In downtown Phoenix, about 25,000 workers attended a rally. Stephen Johnson is CEO of the restaurant chain Macayo's Mexican Kitchen. He says business fell sharply in his downtown restaurant.

STEPHEN JOHNSON: It was kind of a give and take, but it caused, it caused a lot of economic hardship for everybody. I mean, I know a lot of businesses are closed. Absolutely closed, they couldn't get enough help. You know, the people that are marching downtown, people couldn't get downtown to work, they couldn't get downtown to open their business.

ZARROLI: Johnson says some of his workers stayed home to attend the rally and he had to bring in replacements from other sites. Others asked for permission to attend and he had to turn them down.

JOHNSON: I know they wanted to go and I would have let them go but, you know, I gotta pay their paychecks.

ZARROLI: Johnson says he turned them down despite the fact that he supports the immigrants' underlying goals. Like a lot of employers, he also says he hopes Congress finds a way to fix the immigration system and that these kinds of protests don't become a regular thing. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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