Corporations Were Prepared for Immigrant Rallies

From the orange groves of Florida to high-rise hotels in Manhattan, the pro-immigrant rallies and boycotts planned for today have caused many companies to examine their policies and attitudes toward their work forces.

But will the protests in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere have a lasting effect? In spite of the nationwide attention the protests have garnered, most economists expect few significant tremors from the work slowdown.

"Certainly, I wouldn't think it would be more than a blip for the overall economy," said Ben Hermalin, economist at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

"It will have a bigger impact on industries that might have a larger immigrant worker base -- things like the construction industry, and maybe agriculture, where a one-day work stoppage could have a bigger effect," said Hermalin.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, unauthorized immigrants make up 24 percent of all workers employed in farming occupations, 14 percent in construction and 12 percent in food preparation.

"Some individual businesses will see some lost businesses, some lost sales, but personally I don't think it will have much of an impact on consumers at all. They'll just go shopping tomorrow, or they shopped on Sunday," Hermalin added.

Corporations Call for Immigration Reform

Goya Foods, a multinational food company based in Secaucus, N.J., has suspended deliveries throughout the country in recognition of the boycott. The company, started in 1936 by immigrants from Spain, sells Latino food products from the Caribbean, Spain and Latin America.

Other large corporations, like hotel giant Marriott International, have decided to address the call for a boycott case by case. "Requests for the day off we're having handled by the property manager," said Matthew Carroll, spokesman for Marriott International.

There are no reports of large-scale work stoppages or shutdowns at Marriott properties, Carroll noted. "Things are operating as business as usual," he said.

"As a corporation, we support comprehensive immigration reform," Carroll said, adding that this includes secure borders as well as rights for immigrant workers.

Tyson Foods, based in Springdale, Ark., is another large employer of Latino immigrants. A company statement indicated that while most of the plants they operate will remain open, "about a dozen plants, mostly red meat operations, will be closed due to a combination of market conditions and the expected absence of workers."

Like Marriott, Tyson supports the reform of current immigration laws. "While we understand the sentiment behind the May 1 events and support comprehensive immigration reform, we are not encouraging workers to participate in the rallies," the statement said.

Farmers and growers have also shown concern about laborers taking the day off. "A lot of our growers say that this is a very busy time for them," said Ray Gilmer, spokesman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

Preparation Was Key

To compensate for any worker absenteeism, farmers prepared early. "This wasn't a surprise. Several growers worked over the weekend," Gilmer said. "They were working overtime to get these crops in early."

Farmers and growers reported varying numbers of laborers who took part in the boycott. "Everyone we've spoken to today has had some degree of participation. What we're seeing is a sporadic response. It depends on what farmer you talk to," said Gilmer.

Like many of the industries that hire large numbers of immigrant laborers, agribusiness has called for reform of immigration laws. "A lot of growers have said that this is a good thing if it brings some attention to the immigration reform issue," Gilmer said.

"Last week there were rumors of immigration raids," Gilmer said. And when those rumors cause workers to stay home, Gilmer added, "That does affect our growers."

And after the hurricanes of 2005 moved many immigrant laborers into the construction industry, growers are having an increasingly difficult time attracting workers. "It's been a tight labor market this year," Gilmer said. "Growers can't afford to fire anyone right now."