When we heard that the Vetri restaurants were being acquired by Urban Outfitters, we all wondered what kind of changes might be afoot for the local dining establishments. Well, we’ve now learned about one major change that has resulted in a loss of employment for 30 Vetri workers.
Marc Vetri confirms that the more than 400 current employees — as well as all future employees — of his restaurants must now undergo E-Verify screening, an online process that works with Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to determine if an employee is legally eligible for work in the United States. If you don’t pass the E-Verify screening, you can no longer work at Vetri spots, as the 30 workers recently discovered — at least one of them a 10-year veteran of the restaurants.
“It just sucks,” says Vetri. “But this is what America is. My grandfather left Italy when he was 17 years old, stowed away on a ship. He got here illegally. But the war was happening, so they said, You can fight for us! You’re an American now. We’ll waive that whole citizenship thing. Now go to war! But now you have a different circumstance. You have second- and third-generation immigrants who have raised families here, and there’s still no real road for them to get legal, even though they are the fabric of our society.”
Prior to the Urban acquisition, Vetri says he verified employment eligibility by what he refers to as “eyeball screening.” If you wanted to work at his restaurant, Vetri managers would eyeball your paperwork and put it on file. (Employers are expected to ask for documentation that verifies work eligibility, but risk charges of discrimination if they insist on more than immigration regulations call for.) As long as the paperwork “reasonably appears to be genuine,” even if an undocumented worker were later found to be employed there, the restaurant could just say, Hey, we checked his papers. It’s not our fault that they weren’t real.
“After the acquisition of the Vetri Family group of restaurants was announced, URBN offered employment to all Vetri Family associates, contingent on successful completion of URBN’s standard background checks which are applied to all employees nationwide,” an Urban Outfitters spokesperson said in a statement. “Unfortunately some did not pass one or more of these required checks, and as a result, we could not offer them employment at URBN. URBN is committed to equal opportunity employment and to complying with all applicable employment laws.”
Urban Outfitters is one of more than 600,000 companies across the nation that utilize the E-Verify service. While Pennsylvania requires E-Verify for public works contractors and their crews, state law does not require that other types of employers put their workers through the screening. Still, more than 9,500 Pennsylvania companies use E-Verify and 784 in Philadelphia alone, says United States Citizen and Immigration Services.
The office of Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe says that he is currently looking for a co-sponsor on a bill that would make E-Verify mandatory for all employers in the state, and Republican hopeful Donald Trump supports a national E-Verify requirement. Vetri says he expects that nationwide E-Verify will be enacted within the year.
“We wish all these workers could continue to work for us,” says Vetri. “They’re so loyal, and they’re hard workers. Some of them have been over to my house, and I bring my kids to their houses for playdates. It’s very sad.”
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