Headwaters Foundation moves to support 15 immigrant workers fired from D’Amico


The Headwaters Foundation for Justice, a local organization that fights for social justice causes, recently announced it would boycott a venue catered by D’Amico & Partners to show support for the 15 Latino workers who were let go from the metro-area restaurant chain on March 31. Its annual “Allies for Justice” dinner will be held Wednesday at the Minneapolis Hilton instead of the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Center, where D’Amico has an exclusive contract.

D’Amico fired the 15 workers after receiving no-match letters for those employees from the Social Security Administration. (No-matches go out when a Social Security number can’t be verified.) A growing list of activists, including some politicians, allege that the company’s actions were unlawful and discriminatory. They want D’Amico to come to a fair agreement with the former employees, many of whom had worked there for over a decade. But D’Amico’s representatives maintain they acted within the law.

Headwaters explains on its Web site that moving the event “best supports our goal for the Allies for Justice celebration: to recognize exceptional social justice work in our community.” The current immigration system needs to be overhauled because it allows for human and civil rights violations, it states. “We stand with workers as they fight for justice in the workplace and support those working for national immigration laws that are fair and just.”

David Nicholson, program director of Headwaters, says the organization wasn’t pressured to do so, adding, “We wanted to be able to have a conversation about immigration reform.” About the D’Amico’s workers getting caught in the middle, he says, “This is what happens when we don’t have good policies in place.”

The Headwaters Foundation has provided financial support to Workers Interfaith Network, an aggressive advocate for the Latino workers. With WIN’s help, 13 of the 15 employees jointly filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in March. (The other two employees took steps to address the “no-match” with the Social Security Administration and have returned to their jobs, according to company information.) WIN activists have staged a number of protests at various D’Amico sites. They have also forwarded a thousand signed postcards from people petitioning the company to come to a fair resolution of the issue. Until then, the signers maintain they will boycott the restaurant chain.

WIN’s executive director, Matt Gladhue, defends the workers: “The only explanation for D’Amico’s actions seems to be that they made a decision about workers’ immigration status based on their race and national origin,” which Gladhue asserts violates state and federal laws.

Minneapolis City Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden points out in a May 6 letter to D’Amico that the Social Security database is riddled with errors. “In fact, the SSA’s ‘no-match’ letter itself warns employers against taking any retaliatory action based on receipt of the no-match letter,” Glidden says. Using no-matches as an immigration enforcement tool, she says, “is contrary to our anti-discrimination laws, contrary to common sense as expressed by many business and labor organizations, and is harmful to individual workers and our economy.”

Additionally, a similar letter signed by five local legislators on May 1 urges D’Amico not to give in to a “climate of fear” regarding immigration policies nationwide.

Amy Rotenberg, a spokeswoman for D’Amico, says that as of Tuesday she was unaware of the politicians’ correspondence. She says D’Amico isn’t seeing any impact on sales as a result of the controversy. The company has recently sent its rebuttal to the EEOC. “We’re confident the charges will be dismissed,” Rotenberg says.

D’Amico has also retained security guards at some of the protests. It responded to those who sent them postcards. “We are very willing to explain what the facts are,” Rotenberg says. “People have been overwhelmingly supportive.”

As for Headwaters’ move, she says, “Clearly that’s their decision. Our position is that we won’t be bullied by WIN into breaking the law. If [Headwaters] can’t resist WIN’s thrust, we wish them good luck but that doesn’t change D’Amico’s position … we continue to run our business and do what we’re required to do to be a law-abiding company and community contributor.”

“This is a demonstration that is destined to fail,” Rotenberg says. “What they’re asking for we can’t provide. Nor can any other employer. It’s not a good recipe for success.”