When asked if there would be any changes to his current restaurants after the sale of his company to URBN, Marc Vetri responded, "No. Not at all." But these days, things surely aren't looking that way.
Earlier this week, Philly Mag reported that over 400 Vetri employees, including any future ones, will now undergo an E-Verify screening process in conjunction with Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration designed to determine whether workers are legally allowed to work in the United States. The process, mandated by URBN — not Vetri restaurant management — determined 30 Vetri employees, including a 10-year Vetri-vet, ineligible to work at URBN.
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"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."
And while Marc Vetri expressed some deep remorse regarding the loss of these employees ("We wish all these workers could continue to work for us. 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."), this isn't the first time, nor is it the last time this situation will crop up in Philly.
What you can do:
Ben Miller and Cristina Martinez, chef-owners of the ever-revered South Philly Barbacoa, have been very outspoken in regards to the rights of illegal restaurant workers, even organizing entire dinners around the subject of those undocumented in the industry. While, yes, this is all in the name of the legal system, combined with the many struggles of restaurant economics — what it costs to keep a restaurant afloat and those long established under-the-table systems embedded in restaurant culture, there are some apparent issues — holes, even — in the current state of affairs.
If you're interested in reform, attend the Ben and Cristina's Right to Work events, it's what they were designed to do: spur conversation, get support from those with clout, and maybe one day, make changes to immigration laws so damaging to the welfare of the industry, and more importantly, the people within it.