US farms, restaurants, meat processing companies and other businesses were hit by walkouts on Monday as hundred of thousands of immigrants across the country rallied to underscore their importance to the economy and to protest against legislation that would target illegal migrants.
In Los Angeles, where the the protest march stretched out for more than mile and was growing late on Monday, local reports said that only 10 per cent of the truckers serving the Port of Los Angeles turned up. The union representing California farmworkers said tens of thousands had joined marches and rallies, leaving many fields empty for a day.
Florida fruit and vegetable growers similarly reported that about half of farm workers did not show up on Monday. In the Midwest, the top US meat processors, including Tyson Foods, Cargill and Swift, shut their operations for the day. And the country’s largest Hispanic-owned food company, Goya Foods, suspended deliveries throughout the US in support of the boycott.
The work stoppages and the demonstrations – which included huge marches in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia – marked the latest and biggest in an escalating series of protests.
Sonia Umanzor, a nurse who marched in Washington, DC, said she had pulled her daughter out of school and had received permission from her employer to skip work and join in the day-long boycott. She said: “A lot of people start to see us as criminals and don’t trust us. And we are the ones working hard in the worst jobs.”
The demonstrators are objecting to legislation passed by the US House of Representatives that would criminalise illegal immigration and drastically increase barriers and police enforcement along the US border with Mexico. The US Senate is divided over more liberal legislation that would toughen enforcement but allow many of the country’s nearly 12m undocumented immigrants to remain legally.
Most companies appeared to have planned in advance to avoid serious disruptions. Mary Price Burk, a partner with Baker & Hostetler in Denver, said that none of her business clients had reported any problems in spite of large demonstrations there. “People are working with it, and it’s not having a substantial negative effect,” she said.
The biggest effects appeared to be on restaurants, construction projects and small retail businesses, though hotels and casinos reported little disruption.
At the Old Ebbitt Grill, a popular Washington restaurant just a block from the White House, the take-out shop was offering a sharply scaled-back menu on Monday and most of the staff were absent. The usually cramped short-order kitchen was quiet. “Everyone who asked for the day off got the day off,” said a manager who was filling in.