Clyde’s of Gallery Place working to keep employees after federal immigration audit

In late September, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement notified Clyde’s of Gallery Place that more than 100 of its employees were not authorized to work in the United States after reviewing documents submitted for an audit, according to a corporate executive with Clyde’s and a representative assisting the potentially illegal workers.

Approximately half those employees have not returned to work since they were informed via letter of the ICE audit and the need to submit new documentation, said Claude Andersen, corporate operations manager for Clyde’s Restaurant Group. The rest continue to work in various capacities at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, he said, as the restaurant group cooperates with the Department of Homeland Security agency to update documents to prove the employees are authorized to work.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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The restaurant employs a total of more than 200 people at its 23,000-square-foot Gallery Place location, ranking it among the largest restaurants in the District (although still smaller than the Hamilton, the 37,000-square-foot operation on 14th Street NW, which the Clyde’s Restaurant Group also owns).

“They don’t want us to close down the entire restaurant” in Gallery Place, Andersen said about ICE.

The situation has created angst on both sides of the business. On Thursday, those 100-plus employees showed up at the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs, looking for someone who could help them keep their jobs or just remain in the United States, said director Roxana Olivas. Some were scared, Olivas said. Many were confused on what exactly was expected of them.

On the flip side, Clyde’s of Gallery Place is operating without a sizable fraction of its employees who worked in all facets of the restaurant, including bussers, servers and cooks, Andersen said. The location has not cut back its operating hours, but some workers have been pulling double shifts while others are accepting more hours. Clyde’s also has been hiring new employees to replace the ones who left as a result of the ICE audit, Andersen said.

Arturo Griffiths, day labor organizer for D.C. Jobs With Justice, which is assisting the affected workers, said he has encountered situations similar to the one at Clyde’s: Employers that don’t want to keep paying the higher wages of experienced workers will provide an anonymous tip to ICE, which will then conduct an audit of employees’ work-authorization documents. A number of the affected Clyde’s employees, Griffiths said, have worked at the restaurant for more than five years.

“Sometimes places clean up and fire the ones that are there” for long periods, Griffiths said. “Sometimes the companies use ICE to do this cleaning, which is a very comfortable way to do it.”

Griffiths said the employees still working at Clyde’s have seen new, potentially illegal workers join the staff in the aftermath of the ICE audit.

Andersen, the corporate operations manager, said Griffiths’s charge was without merit. “For somebody to say this is inflammatory and probably serves his purpose,” Andersen said. “I have a great love for these people who have worked so hard.”

What’s more, Andersen said that because of the audit the company has been cautious about new hires. The restaurant group is working with D.C. Central Kitchen, the D.C. Department of Employment Services and the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School to find employees with the proper authorizations to work. Clyde’s has “absolutely not” hired any illegal workers as replacements, he said. “Not to our knowledge.”

As of Friday afternoon, Clyde’s had not issued a deadline for the employees to submit their new documentation or face termination, Andersen said. ICE had originally set an Oct. 7 deadline for Clyde’s to file new documents, but that has been extended indefinitely as the restaurant group works with the government on the audit, Andersen said. Eventually, the executive added, Clyde’s would have to set a cutoff date.

Clyde’s has made attorneys available for those affected employees who “need help in any way,” Andersen said. Those consultations, he added, are not shared with the company.

As a matter of policy ICE does not confirm or deny “the existence or accuracy of audits or investigations,” said Gillian M. Christensen, deputy press secretary for ICE. The agency does not conduct random audits, Christensen added — only audits based on tips or other investigative leads.

Generally speaking, ICE focuses its attention on employers, not employees, during audits. The exception would be workers who are convicted criminals; ICE might take action against those employees. Andersen said there have been “no threats of penalty” yet for Clyde’s.

Despite their differing perspectives on the Clyde’s audit and its effect on employees, both Griffiths and Andersen agree on one thing: The government appears to be in crackdown mode. Both men independently said they had heard ICE audits are being carried out at a number of businesses in the District.

“This is happening around town,” Griffiths said, “and this is happening in many parts that we don’t even know about.”

Their opinions jibe with a September article in the Wall Street Journal, which reported that the government notified “about 1,000 businesses across the country in recent weeks” that they must submit documents for audits. The story referred to the so-called “silent raids” as the “largest since July 2009 when just as many companies were notified.”

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