Munro: L.A. Times Admits Restaurant Industry Exploiting Migrant Labor

In this photo taken Monday, July 27, 2015, Arturo Ramirez, left, and other workers crowd the kitchen at an Ivar's restaurant in Seattle. After Seattle's new minimum wage law took effect last April 1, Ivar’s Seafood Restaurants announced that it was jacking up its prices by about 21 percent, eliminating …
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Progressives gush about the vibrant diversity of food served by Korean restaurants in Los Angeles — but they also ignore the kitchens where migrants work long hours in terrible conditions for low wages.

“Koreatown is without question the mecca of Korean cookery in America,” says “The food served in this vibrant neighborhood, full of neon lights and late nights, is so stellar that even food obsessives visiting from Seoul marvel at its sheer quality and quantity.”

But legal and illegal migrants in Koreatown kitchens face “a life of blatant wage theft, racial discrimination, constant stress, exploitation and job insecurity,” says a July 29 column by writer Frank Shyong. He is an Asian-American columnist who covers “diversity and diaspora in Los Angeles” for the Los Angeles Times.

“The cleaning solution for the metal grills is actually a type of acid that dishwashers say causes allergies, damages their hands and throws off fumes that make them choke,” he wrote. “One dishwasher even got some of the acid in his eyes and went blind.”

The maltreatment of migrants in restaurants is commonplace, Shyong admitted:

These issues aren’t unique to Korean barbecue restaurants or exclusive to the restaurant industry. A 2010 UCLA study found that 89% of wage workers surveyed in Los Angeles reported some type of workplace violation. Wage workers in Los Angeles lose an estimated $1.4 billion to wage theft every year, according to KIWA. The more vulnerable the workers, the more likely they were to be exploited — 38% of Latino workers and 36% of foreign-born workers surveyed experienced wage theft, compared with just 10.3% of white respondents and 16% of U.S.-born respondents.

Unsurprisingly, his column got little response from migration advocates and urban progressives, many of whom justify their self-serving support for mass migration with the promise of diverse ethnic and national foods.

“A global feast in an unlikely spot,” trilled the July 2019 headline in a New York Timesarticle about immigrant-run restaurants in Lancaster, Pa. “They effortlessly mesh with the fancy cocktail bars and old-school bakeries. The seven-square-mile city is now a hive of culinary diversity.”

“The fragrant smells of global spices and the laughter of a diverse clientele waft from the bounty of new, immigrant-owned restaurants and cafes,” said an August 2018 article in the Detroit Free Press.

This apparently benign notion of food variety is often used as a political club when Americans try to preserve their coherent culture, civic solidarity, wages, and affordable housing prices from the wage-cutting, rent-boosting, chaos-creating consequences of divide-and-rule diversity.

A July 2019 article in the Washington Post tried to club Americans into silence, saying:

People are giving a finger to the current administration by lifting their forks,” said Kevin Jennings, president of Lower Manhattan’s Tenement Museum, which spotlights America’s urban immigrant history. “At this time of xenophobia, supporting these businesses is an explicitly political act, and these meals become acts of resistance to the current regime. Plus, the food is delicious.”

A 2018 article in the globalist magazine, The Economist, also waved the diversity club, saying: “Migration is culturally enriching too. Along with often providing a greater range of restaurants in an area, it also leads to more creativity in art and music, more exciting football teams and a wider range of friends and partners.”

The LAT‘s author indulges in this celebration of variety as he admits the hidden price of professionals’ demand for imposed civic diversity:

If I’m celebrating something, I usually head to 6th Street in Koreatown for one of my favorite meals in this city: Korean barbecue, cooked at a tabletop grill and paired with an endless array of fresh side dishes and sauces.

I love the incredible variety of flavors and the restless energy of the meal; hands, scissors, chopsticks and plates in constant motion; always something to dip, sear, cut, wrap or chew. I even love the way the smell of the sweet, charred soy lingers on my clothes and hair afterward.

The progressives’ unwillingness to recognize the treatment of Korean restaurant-workers in their diversity economy is not new or surprising. The rough treatment of low-wage migrant workers has been a norm in the restaurant business for decades. A 1998 article in the Los Angeles Times reported:

A federal probe of Koreatown-area restaurants uncovered rampant violations of minimum wage and overtime laws, the U.S. Labor Department announced Friday.

In a sweep of 43 randomly picked restaurants, investigators found that 200 workers were underpaid by $250,000. All but two of the restaurants had violated the labor laws, said regional spokesman Tino Serrano of the U.S. Labor Department.

“Restaurant workers are some of the nation’s lowest paid and most vulnerable workers,” Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman said in a statement. “It is especially disturbing that the violations continued even after the department explained the application of federal labor laws to the restaurants’ owners.”

The progressives’ disregard for working-class people — both Americans and migrants — echoes the early 1900s when “muckraker” journalists and writers gradually exposed the elite’s careless exploitation of immigrants. Those revelations spurred a widespread pushback and the 1930s political shift that moved political power from employers to employees.

Since then, employers have lost their leading role at the top of the political pyramid. They have been displaced by the investors, banks, and real estate owners who have the financial power to extract profits from employers, just as employers have the hiring power to extract many hours of cheap labor from underpaid Americans.

Shyong’s L.A. Times article noted that the restaurant owners do not pocket all the profits from their imported cheap labor. Instead, they must pay more rents to property owners as more migrants and Americans crowd into their restaurants.

“Rental rates for the 6th Street, Wilshire Boulevard, Olympic Bluebird and other Korean town center roads are skyrocketing from $ 3.50 to $ 5.50 per square foot,” said a Korean-language article in the July 23 Korea Times.

It is the same story for Latino migrants in the city’s textile industry.

In 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported on the clothing industry’s use of immigrant and illegal labor, where the profits also went to the investors who own the most valuable property — the clothing brands:

The U.S. Department of Labor investigated 77 Los Angeles garment factories from April through July of 2016 and found that workers were paid as little as $4 and an average of $7 an hour for 10-hour days spent sewing clothes for Forever 21, Ross Dress for Less and TJ Maxx. One worker in West Covina made as little as $3.42 per hour during three weeks of sewing TJ Maxx clothing, according to the Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor discovered labor violations at 85% of the factories it visited during that four-month period and ordered the suppliers to pay $1.3 million in back wages, lost overtime and damages — but it couldn’t touch the brands.

“This whole problem devolves from the retailer,” said David Weil, the former head of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, which led that investigation. “They force the production costs to as low as they want because of their power in the supply chain, with the result of ultimately the workers bearing the whole cost and risk of the system.”

The workers are mostly undocumented Latinos employed by Korean manufacturers and sewing contractors, many of whom owe their survival to L.A.-based Forever 21.

Progressive political advocates in Washington D.C. exploit low-wage migrants in the city’s restaurant economy. But they also exploit poor foreign people by encouraging them to become migrants.

The biggest political encouragement is offered by the Flores catch and release rule that was created by a progressive judge and lawyers and is now defended by pro-migration Democrats and pro-migration groups. The Flores rule and other loopholes have allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants to get into the United States in the last year.

But President Donald Trump is gradually closing the loopholes, as demanded by 2016 voters. This means that an increasing number of migrants who were encouraged by progressives are now being sent home — and must somehow repay their smuggling debts to the cartel-backed coyotes. The Texas Tribune reported the economic wreckage July 26:

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico — It was the first phone call to his family back in Honduras since crossing the Texas-Mexico border, and Olvin Alexander Buezo had bad news.

He wasn’t in the United States as expected. His 7-year-old son would not be attending elementary school this fall in Foley, Alabama. There would be no well-paying U.S. job to finance the $6,000 debt he incurred to pay their smuggler.

“I already told [my uncle] to sell everything,” Buezo said during the brief but somber phone call to his wife Tuesday. Their small “farm” — less than three acres — would have to go.

Most or all of the Central Americans who got on the bus to Monterrey with Melendez — drained of their money and hope — were making the same calculation. Franklin Lopez, 44, came to the U.S. border with his 8-year-old daughter and dreams of getting some new work tools he could bring back to Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua.

“We all came with the illusion that with a child you could get through, and unfortunately they reached the limit,” Lopez said. Now he’s headed home $8,000 lighter — $4,000 of it in the hands of a coyote who left him stranded in Guatemala and $4,000 spent to get across the U.S. border only to be sent back to Mexico a few days later.

The impact of loose border laws on Central American economies and communities is downplayed by migration advocates, despite the obvious costs in debt, crime, and economic stagnation in Central America, and despite the abundant evidence of deaths and sexual assaults among migrants.

But progressives also pay a moral cost for displaying their support for diversity as they slurp the cheap food made by illegals from Korea, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and many other countries.

The L.A. Times’ Shyong, for example, ends his exposé of the Korean food business with the weak claim that “I don’t know how to solve the widespread, long-standing exploitation of our wage workers, but I know that placing a greater value on their work must be part of the answer.”

Yet Shyong is an economics graduate, so he knows that “placing a greater value on their work” is nearly impossible while mass migration overrides the U.S. labor market’s ability to deliver more pay to the toughest jobs, said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Krikorian continued:

The author says “placing a greater value on their work must be part of the answer” — the only way that can actually happen is by limiting the number of low-skill workers available to employers, forcing them to pay more. You can’t bemoan the terrible conditions immigrant workers have to endure without also demanding that the federal government stop importing so many new people to compete with them.

So long as Shyong and other progressives tolerate the huge workplace distortions caused by mass migration, then every vibrant dish of their diversity will be tainted by hypocrisy, gall, and narcissism.

Immigration Numbers:

Each year, roughly four million young Americans join the workforce after graduating from high school or university. This total includes roughly 800,000 Americans who graduate with skilled degrees in business or health care, engineering or science, software or statistics.

But the federal government then imports about 1.1 million legal immigrants and refreshes a resident population of roughly 1.5 million white-collar visa workers — including approximately 1 million H-1B workers and spouses — plus roughly 500,000 blue-collar visa workers.

The government also prints out more than one million work permits for foreigners, tolerates about eight million illegal workers, and does not punish companies for employing the hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants who sneak across the border or overstay their legal visas each year.

This policy of inflating the labor supply boosts economic growth for investors because it transfers wages to investors and ensures that employers do not have to compete for American workers by offering higher wages and better working conditions.

This policy of flooding the market with cheap, foreign, white-collar graduates and blue-collar labor also shifts enormous wealth from young employees towards older investors, even as it also widens wealth gaps, reduces high-tech investment, increases state and local tax burdens, and hurts children’s schools and college educations.

The cheap-labor economic strategy also pushes Americans away from high-tech careers and sidelines millions of marginalized Americans, including many who are now struggling with fentanyl addictions.

The labor policy also moves business investment and wealth from the heartland to the coastal cities, explodes rents and housing costsshrivels real estate values in the Midwest, and rewards investors for creating low-tech, labor-intensive workplaces.


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