Jose, who has worked as a cook at Mort’s Palisades Deli for seven years, was not in his usual spot in the kitchen on Monday morning making mashed potatoes or soup. Neither were Aurelio or Albino or Eloy, the latter having worked as a waiter at the restaurant for 20 years. All four were supporting the “Day Without Immigrants” rally downtown which drew some 600,000 marchers. Owner Bobbie Farberow, who was prepared for her staff’s absence, said she will not penalize any of the 45 workers who did not show up for work. “We asked two weeks ago how many would work on May 1, and only three said they would,” Farberow explained. “Since we knew we couldn’t run the restaurant with just three workers we decided not to open on Monday. I certainly understand why they wanted to participate in the rally and I was happy to see so many American flags.” Manager Esperanza Calderon, who has worked at Mort’s for nearly 20 years and did not attend the rally, said missing a day of work was a difficult decision for many of the deli workers. “While they wanted to be loyal to her [Bobbie], at the same time many of them felt that they had to go to the rally because when they got their legal status there was someone there to help them and now they had to help the others, even though they lost a day’s pay,” Calderon explained. The majority of workers at Mort’s have been employed at the popular eatery for at least a decade. According to Farberow, all of these long-term employees have legal immigrant status, which she and her late husband Mort helped several of them attain, “by referring lawyers, sometimes paying their legal fees. We did whatever we could to move the process along, even sponsoring some of them.” Monday’s rally grew out of an immigration reform bill passed by the House of Representatives last December that called for building a fence along the U.S-Mexico border and toughening laws by making it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally or for employers to hire undocumented workers. Last month, a less draconian proposal was put forth in the Senate that would institute a guest-worker program and eventually provide a path to permanent residency for all illegal immigrants. Albino Fuentes, who has worked at Mort’s for 16 years, marched with his wife, Maria Carrillo, who works part-time in a restaurant and cares for their nine-year-old daughter, Kimberly, who attended school Monday. Fuentes, who emigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, did not realize how massive the rally was until he saw aerial coverage on the evening news. He said the mood was of good cheer the three hours he and his wife walked. He was particularly moved by the chant: “El gigante no estaba dormiendo. Estaba trabajando!” (“The giant wasn’t sleeping. The giant was working!”), which he felt aptly described what immigrants’both legal and illegal’have been doing in this country since the time they arrived. Taking part in the rally made Fuentes feel like “crying,” he told the Palisadian-Post on Tuesday. Other Palisades restaurants that closed Monday included Cafe Vida, Kay ‘N Dave’s and Mogan’s.
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