U.S. Businesses Brace for Monday's Work Boycott

Businesses are bracing for a planned work boycott by immigrant workers seeking legalization for undocumented aliens. Reporter Frank Morris of member station KCUR in Kansas City reports that some big businesses, like meat-packing plants, are planning to shut down for the day, because they are so dependent on immigrant labor.

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Tomorrow, May 1st, is International Workers Day. It's not a holiday in the United States, but immigrants nationwide plan to take the day off and demonstrate for legalization of undocumented workers. Organizers are calling the event the Great American Boycott 2006, a Day Without Immigrants.

They're telling supporters no work, no school, no buying or selling. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports on how business's in the Midwest that depends on immigrant labor plan to cope.

FRANK MORRIS reporting:

At El Meramir Restaurant in Kansas City a few guys dressed in work clothes dine under the gaze of a massive fake swordfish. Owner Victor Shamake(ph) says small places like his can't afford to make a statement May 1st. Shamake says he'll let his demonstrate if they must, but he and his family will keep the doors open.

Mr. VICTOR SHAMAKE (Restaurant Owner): I need to work anyway so this way I'll stay open. Anyway we never close anyway, so 365 days open, we never close.

MORRIS: A lot of restaurants will close Monday, as well as a number of small shops, landscaping businesses and construction outfits. A bi-lingual newspaper, Dos Mondos, will also shut down, according to the paper's editor Claire Raisas(ph).

Ms. CLAIRE RAISAS (Newspaper Editor): If we need to close our offices to support these people, we will close the offices and we will ask everybody that wants to attend to the rally to go ahead and do it.

MORRIS: Not all the businesses closing Monday are small. Dozens of huge meat packaging plants across the country are planning to go offline. Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Michaelson says the company will shut down most of its red meat production.

Mr. GARY MICHAELSON (Tyson Foods Spokesman): Five of our nine U.S. beef plants and four of our six U.S. pork plants will be closed Monday.

MORRIS: Michaelson says Tyson just wouldn't be able to fully staff the plants. Swift, Cargill, Premium Standard Farms and other large meat packers are closing plants for the day as well. It's the second time this year that meat production lines have been down to let workers demonstrate.

Meat processing companies generally support tighter borders and better screening technology. Like many of their immigrant employees they'd like to speed up the naturalization process and allow some undocumented workers to gain citizenship. That doesn't sit well with Bob Walters. Walters is mayor of Beardstown, Illinois, a city of 6,000 where about 2,200 people work for a Cargill pork processing plant. More than a third of them are Hispanic. The plant will close Monday and Walters says some workers resent the forced holiday.

Mr. BOB WALTERS (Mayor of Beardstown): I've had a number of employees call and they are very upset. They're going to lose wages because of this. The employees in the plant know better than anyone what's going on, that they're pandering to the Hispanic community.

MORRIS: But where Walters sees pandering, some Hispanic leaders see foreign-born workers just beginning to exercise their political and economic power. For NPR News I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

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