Fast-food workers and their supporters rallying last year in support of raising the minimum wage.EXPAND
Fast-food workers and their supporters rallying last year in support of raising the minimum wage.
Griselda Nevarez

LUCHA: Arizona Chamber, Restaurant Group Love Low-Paid DACA Workers

The leader of last year's successful minimum-wage ballot measure in Arizona derided the stance on DACA workers by the Arizona Restaurant Association and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce as hypocritical, vowing "we are not allies."

"It's seen as heartless if people don't support DACA," Tomas Robles, executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), said Wednesday.  "It also should be seen as heartless if you don't pay DACA recipients a living wage."

In written statements and interviews this week, the ARA and the Chamber of Commerce blasted the Trump administration's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Unless Congress acts, or President Donald Trump changes his mind, DACA recipients — who were brought here by their undocumented parents at an average age of 6 — will lose their right to work in the United States by March 5, 2018. (Recipients whose DACA eligibility expires by March 5 can also apply for a two-year renewal before October 5.)

"Many Arizona restaurant owners and their employees are looking to Congress to resolve this complex issue and to avoid the negative impacts of DACA expiring without a congressional solution," the ARA announced in a statement sent to the news media.

And in a statement published on the Chamber's web site, CEO Glenn Hamer said, "Does anyone believe our economy is made stronger by eliminating billions of dollars in economic activity from the US economy?"

Both groups lobbied heavily against the minimum-wage measure before voters approved it by an overwhelming margin of 59-41 in November. The vote boosted minimum wage to $10 this year, growing it incrementally up to $12 in 2020. It also mandates paid sick time for workers.

The ARA sued in a failed attempt to kick the measure off the ballot before the election. The Chamber tried
unsuccessfully this year to block the law from taking effect.

LUCHA's Robles said he's "happy" the groups claim they like the DACA program, but doesn't see their stance as very credible.

He noted that the ARA and Chamber were silent on the issue of driver's licenses and in-state college tuition to young people who qualified under the DREAM Act, an unsuccessful piece of legislation similar to DACA that was first introduced in Congress in 2001.

Many restaurants, in particular, continue to fail to give workers proper safety training, to pay workers overtime, or to give them enough hours to qualify for insurance benefits, he said.

"You can't pick and choose when you want to stand up for the people," Robles said. "They're using this opportunity to show people they're not as bad as people think they are. They're trying to use this moment to show they quote-unquote care about communities. They don't practice what they preach."

Told of Robles' criticism, Garrick Taylor, a senior vice president for the Chamber, said he found it "disappointing" to have the Chamber's motives questioned.

The Chamber CEO laid out the case for DACA sincerely, and claimed the pro-DACA, anti-minimum-wage positions were compatible, because both involved creating opportunity for workers.

Making it tougher for people to get jobs, whether by "pricing them out of the market" or causing them to lose status as legal workers, was bad for the economy overall, he argued.

Asked if the Chamber supports amnesty, in general, for undocumented workers, Taylor said the group would "much prefer" to see Congress tackle immigration reform as a whole.

"A pathway to citizenship has to be on the table," he said. Congress "has to find a humane way to address that issue."

The ARA's president and CEO, Steve Chucri, said that his group's statement is a "comment" on Trump, and that as the son of Lebanese immigrants, he's acutely hopeful that Congress fixes the nation's immigration patchwork of laws.

Chucri, a Republican, is also chair of the five-member Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, representing the county's District Two.

"We love and cherish our employees in the restaurant industry," he said. "We believe in the free-market system."

Chucri said the ARA predicted correctly that forced minimum-wage increases in the food industry would mean more automation and job reduction. At the same time, canceling DACA recipients' work status would cause a reduction in the workforce, he said. He believes that would hurt the restaurant industry, and he doesn't buy the theory of some conservatives that the jobs held by DACA recipients would all be filled by American citizens.

"Some of these jobs are really not being sought after by your average American," he said.

Chucri also acknowledged that undocumented workers are employed in the restaurant industry, mainly because the E-Verify system run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security doesn't always screen out undocumented applicants.

"We only see DACA as one spoke of the wheel," he said. "It's about the need for immigration reform."

Robles' "heart is in the right place," but "hypocrisy can go both ways," Chucri charged.

The labor unions behind LUCHA "are in it for more dues-paying members," he said. "They want to drive up wages and show successes to help union membership."

Robles, who helped LUCHA lead demonstrations on Labor Day for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, said the fight for decent pay for food-industry workers is not over. The minimum-wage ballot measure was "a victory in a very long marathon."

Even the new minimum-wage increase in Arizona is not enough for families to live on, he said.

But he doesn't expect the business groups to get behind workers' efforts, despite their professed support of DACA workers.

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