There are some things we know about the immigrant strikes at restaurants across DC today. We know that dozens of businesses are closed. We know workers want to send a message to President Donald Trump. But then there’s one thing we know almost nothing about: who exactly got this DC strike started?
Chefs, organized labor, and Latino advocacy groups are all drawing blanks on who’s behind “A Day Without Immigrants.”
“That’s everyone’s question amazingly! As far as I can tell, it’s truly organic!,” says Julie Karant, a spokesperson for the 32BJ Service Employees International Union.
Meanwhile, Annemarie Strassel at UNITE HERE, a union that focuses on the hospitality industry, says she hasn’t seen anything aside from the flyer that’s making its way around the internet. The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which works to improve working conditions in the restaurant industry, was also unsure how the protests began.
It was the same story at CARECEN, a nonprofit that represents the DC area’s Latino community. “For a lot of the restaurants, from what I hear, is the employees went to their bosses and said you know ‘we’re not coming,’” says Abel Núñez, the group’s executive director. Núñez says he hasn’t seen a strike like this before and expects that it will be bigger than past efforts.
“A lot of our clients had not necessarily been in panic mode,” Núñez says. “But I do think once you began to see that raids were beginning to happen and lives were beginning to get impacted, I think this began to be more real for people, and this is a way for them to respond.”
Likewise, many restaurant owners aren’t sure how the protest originated. The movement has spread primarily through word of mouth and fliers written in Spanish.
“One of our delivery men who’s Latino told our kitchen about it, and then it started spreading from there,” says Compass Rose owner Rose Previte.
Azadeh Erfani, whose family owns Le Caprice bakery, adds via email: “This is unprecedented for Le Caprice. We only close one day per year, on December 25th, and have closed on no other day (including snow days) for the past five years.” Erfani’s parents and workers agreed this morning that shutting down “was the right thing to do.” Erfani wasn’t sure how Le Caprice’s workers first heard about the strike.
Chef José Andrés, a local champion of immigration reform, says he didn’t find out about the strike until this past weekend when employees began approaching him about it. As a result, he’s closed Oyamel, Zaytinya, and all three area locations of Jaleo today.
“The fun part is nobody knows how this began. Nobody knows where this came from. I still don’t know, and I think I know much about what’s happening around my world,” he says. “What I know is that I have a whole bunch of dishwashers and waiters and runners and bussers that are saying, ‘We are doing this.’ And at the end, the will of the people is stronger than anything, and I’m going with the flow.”
Additional reporting by Jessica Sidman