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Firms Brace for Rallies Today

Immigrant protests lead some companies to shut early and others not to open for business at all.

May 01, 2006|Lisa Girion and Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writers

From Los Angeles garment factories to Sonoma County vineyards, California businesses spent the weekend preparing for today's marches and boycotts aimed at demonstrating immigrants' economic contributions.

Restaurants and other retailers near a downtown Los Angeles march route and in heavily immigrant neighborhoods throughout the city posted signs saying they would be closed today. Companies that rely on immigrant workers made plans to get through the day with skeleton crews or to shut down altogether. Hospitals prepared to call in extra employees in the event that an anticipated influx of patients materializes at emergency rooms.

Many businesses were preparing for a day without deliveries. Trucking companies were girding for the possibility that warehouse workers who unload and sort the deliveries would respond to calls for a widespread sickout.

That would have a ripple effect on the ports and commerce throughout the state.

"It should be a pretty big mess," said Stephanie Williams, senior vice president of the California Trucking Assn., which represents 2,500 companies.

Some garment factories in downtown Los Angeles, Huntington Park and Koreatown planned to close early. Some planned to be closed all day, and some were waiting to see how many workers showed up.

Downtown manufacturer Mike Lee of Poison Ivy fashions said almost all of his Latino employees told him they would take the day off, and he doesn't expect any deliveries. He said he and his wife will catch up on paperwork and then close around 3 p.m. to join the march in Koreatown with several Korean groups at Western and Wilshire.

Michael Park, part-owner of Blue Heaven, a clothing manufacturer in Huntington Park, said 80% of his contract workers around the city told him they would not work today.

"My employees wanted to know if they would be fired if they didn't come to work on Monday," Park said. "I said their jobs are safe."

Because many garment workers lack benefits such as paid vacation time, Joe Rodriguez, executive director of the Garment Contractors Assn. of Southern California, said those who took the day off would "feel it in their pocketbooks." As a result, many toiled over the weekend, filling orders and completing other tasks they would have performed today.

Rodriguez said he knew of no manufacturers who planned to discipline workers for taking the day off.

Several employers who depend on immigrant workers said they were happy to give the time to those who made the request in advance.

Indeed, said Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Assn., "it's not an us-against-them situation."

That's how Healdsburg, Calif., vineyard owner Dennis De La Montanya saw it when four key workers asked for the day off after offering to work through the weekend.

"Knowing how hard they work, I would never deny them a day off they deserve," De La Montanya said.

"It's not a political statement," he added. "They supported me, and anything we can do to support them, I'm happy doing."

In Los Angeles, many restaurants, including Pastina in Westwood, said they would close if enough workers took the day off. Roger Kephart, manager of an Armstrong Garden Center in Santa Monica, said three of 19 employees took him up on his offer to take the day off.

Hospitals, on the other hand, faced the prospect of calling staffing registries for substitute workers. Jim Lott, a spokesman for the Hospital Assn. of Southern California, said community clinic operators have warned hospitals that the clinics may have to close if too many employees fail to report to work.

"We put a notice out to all the hospitals to expect an increased number of patients coming into the emergency room because we believe the community clinics are going to be hit the hardest," Lott said. Hospitals "are going to have to staff even higher."

But hospital administrators in some areas of Southern California were concerned that some of their own workers wouldn't show up. However, Lott said he was not aware of any hospitals that were canceling elective surgeries or taking other steps to curtail services.

The California Nurses Assn. did not sanction any walkouts, said Jill Furillo, a director of the labor organization. However, the group expected a contingent of its nurses who had arranged to take the day off to march in Los Angeles against a bill in Congress that would make it a crime to harbor illegal immigrants. "That would turn nurses into immigration cops," Furillo said.

Even a successful buying boycott is unlikely to have a great impact on the national economy, said Mike Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers. Shoppers who withhold purchases today are likely to make them Tuesday, he said.

"There will be pockets, I suspect, and certainly L.A. is one of the pockets, where it could be more noticeable," he said. But "I suspect there will be no impact in Kansas."

Despite the call for a boycott, Jack Kyser of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. said the demonstrations themselves would provide opportunities that not every businessperson would pass up.

"What you are going to see along the demonstration route is Latino entrepreneurs selling drinks and flags and other things," Kyser said.

"The entrepreneurial spirit burns bright."

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Times staff writers Leslie Earnest, Annette Haddad, Terril Yue Jones, Roger Vincent, Ronald D. White and Daniel Yi contributed to this report.

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