SAN JOSE (AP) — A Northern California-based grocery store chain that caters to Latino immigrants has come under fire for participating in a federal program that checks the immigration status of prospective workers.
A coalition of groups, including the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5, on Monday called for a boycott of San Jose-based Mi Pueblo in part because of the chain's participation in the E-Verify program. The program is voluntary in California.
The company said on Friday that it joined E-Verify after federal immigration officials launched an audit of its existing workers' immigration status in August, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
The chain's founder, Juvenal Chavez, himself a former illegal immigrant, has briefed employees over the past week, the Los Angeles Times reported (http://sacb.ee/Q8GZVM) over the weekend. The company is also launching a radio show to educate families who could be affected by the audit and plans to conduct outreach to community organizations and churches.
Mi Pueblo spokeswoman Perla Rodriguez told the Times that Chavez has vowed to rehire any worker fired for being in the country illegally but who later gains legal status. He will also continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform.
Mi Pueblo was founded in 1991. It now has 21 stores in the San Francisco Bay area, the Central Valley and the Monterey Bay region.
The groups, calling themselves the Justice for Mercados Campaign, are led by the UFCW, which is trying to organize Mi Pueblo's more than 3,000 workers, said union spokesman Eriberto Fernandez.
"Workers have met with a lot of intimidation, some firings and retaliation for unionizing," Eriberto Fernandez said.
"We're asking the community not to shop at Mi Pueblo until the situation is resolved," he said.
In a statement, the campaign said it is trying to determine if in fact Mi Pueblo is being audited. It says Mi Pueblo could stop any audit by informing federal officials that the company is in the midst of a labor dispute reflected by the ongoing organizing effort by the union.
In a statement, the group said the boycott will continue "until such time as Mi Pueblo respects the rights of its workers and the members of the communities in which it operates and until it rescinds E-Verify and sticks up for its employees instead of cooperating with an I-9 audit that can be stopped."