BY JESSICA HAYNES FROM MLIVE.COM
A movement to create safe spaces for employees is just beginning, and one Ann Arbor company is voicing its support for the newly-founded and hotly-debated project, according to an MLive.com report.
Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Bakehouse, Creamery, Roadhouse restaurant and Cornman Farms located in Dexter are now part of the sanctuary status designation for restaurants and businesses, identified through storefront signs as employers who are providing safe spaces for their employees, devoid of harassment and discrimination from other workers or patrons.
As co-founding partner of Zingerman’s, Paul Saginaw told The Ann Arbor News the company only recently got involved in the sanctuary status program.
“This was relatively new, it began a week or so ago,” Saginaw said. “It’s just kind of blown up very quickly. It’s the very beginning of the movement.”
He first got involved through the Restaurant Opportunity Center, an advocacy organization for worker rights, that has since collaborated with Presente.org, an online Latino organization, to create the designation program.
Sheila Maddali is the communication director for ROC and said the organization was founded in 2001 to assist in emergency relief for restaurant workers who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. It expanded to a national platform in 2008 and helped create the sanctuary status project.
It started as a response to both restaurant owners and employees who worried about their economic livelihoods in the face of possible deployments and labor shortages, Maddali said. Restaurants involved receive a placard in the mail and are provided media, legal and communication assistance through ROC.
Saginaw is part of RAISE, Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment, an organization created by ROC that he said serves as an alternative to the National Restaurant Association and began as a response to recent “divisive, hateful rhetoric.”
“The different members were voicing a lot of concerns that this was happening during the election cycle,” Saginaw said. “After the election, it seemed to continue. A lot of our staff were being harassed. Harassed on buses, harassed on the way to work, harassed in the dining room.”
While not much could be done outside of Zingerman’s buildings, the sanctuary status served as a symbolic move of solidarity for employees facing those situations.
“Symbolically, we wanted to say our restaurants are places where there is zero tolerance for hate and homophobia and xenophobia. We’re going to stand behind our staff,” Saginaw said.
Maddali agreed with Saginaw, and said the sanctuary status project is about creating safer spaces for employees from all walks of life.
The official launch for the project is not until February but the response has already been overwhelming, Maddali said, both in positive and negative aspects.
“We have a few places that, as a result of having publicly taken a stand against hate, have been targeted,” Maddali said. “We’ve heard a couple restaurants say they’ve gotten negative attention, saying they were harboring undocumented workers.”
There have also been stories of support, of employees learning about what their employers have done and being moved to tears.
“It’s just about a safer space for everyone. It’s not a radical notion,” Maddali said. “People should feel safe when they go to work, that they won’t be discriminated against. Right now, we’re in a climate that is hostile for everyone.”
The response also has prompted interest from more restaurants than ever before, something Maddali contributes to a combination of both media attention and a result of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump that include provisions that would affect border security and sanctuary cities.
“People are looking for ways to do something, to contribute to supporting people who are kind of vulnerable right now,” Maddali said.
That show of support also has brought out some haters to voice opposition to the status, Saginaw said.
“It has nothing to do with harboring undocumented workers,” Saginaw said, addressing some concerns the status means endorsement for illegal immigration. “The laws are very, very clear and they are very very, strict. This is about creating a place where there is zero tolerance for hate and discrimination.”
It is a responsibility that Saginaw and Zingerman’s business leaders take seriously.
“As an employer, I’m legally bound to create a safe place,” he said in the MLive.com report. “I’m following the law. But more than anything, its symbolic. You can make a statement publicly and we are willing to do that.”
The small signs in the windows of certain Zingerman’s businesses, like the Delicatessen and Roadhouse restaurant, state “Sanctuary Restaurant, a place at the table for everyone.” Despite their size, the signs have prompted plenty of conversation.
“We’re in a new reality here,” said Saginaw. “I have folks who are stressed, they are worried, they are concerned. People feel under attack. We want them to know when they come to work, we’re going to do everything we can to create a safe place.”
He hopes more restaurants and organizations also consider adopting the sanctuary status.
“This isn’t just about immigrant workers, this is about LGBQ, this is about our Muslim brothers and sisters. Our brothers and sisters of color,” Saginaw said. “Our hope is that more and more people sign up, and more and more people come out publicly and say they won’t tolerate hateful speech, discrimination, and harassment.”
Other Michigan locations designed under the sanctuary status include Detroit’s COLORS and Russell Street Deli, the Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge in Grand Rapids and Morning Star Cafe in Grand Haven.
Ann Arbor has been considered a “sanctuary city,” a location viewed as a safe haven for undocumented immigrants, but has not ever officially declared itself as such.