As a waiter at La Cocina Mexican restaurant in Mebane, Cesar Arturo Flores Valadez has got a tough set of feet. His nine-hour days include the tedium of wiping sticky food scraps off dining tables and repeatedly hauling bus bins back to the kitchen sink and its soggy vapors, all while never letting his friendly smile falter. He says he loves it.
On weekdays, he’s out by 10 o'clock at night. By 10:30 p.m., he’s kicked off his slip-resistant work shoes and has laced up a pair of cleats.
As captain of recreational soccer team Equipo La Piedad F.C., Flores Valadez will hit the field on Tuesday, July 24, at 10:45 p.m. at Fairchild Park in Burlington for the inaugural ceremony of the LUPE Champion League 2012 tournament.
The tournament and league include eight teams primarily composed of Hispanic immigrant restaurant workers in the Piedmont region. It is hosted by community organization LUPE (Latinos Unidos Promoviendo la Esperanza, or Latinos United to Promoting Hope). The opening ceremony will include live music and an introduction to all players.
Blanca Zendejas-Nienhaus, LUPE community director, helped launch the tournament to provide a space for restaurant workers to unwind and develop a community. Most teams are formed at work and games will be played on weekdays at 10:45 p.m. and 1 a.m., when the players are off the clock. She says the majority of the players are from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and countries in South America, with one American player.
“The players are so excited. For them, it’s a new experience to see their faces all over Facebook and our website,” Zendejas-Nienhaus says. “It gives the players a feeling of the importance they possess as a community.”
Flores-Valadez, who plays central defense, says his love for soccer was something he was “born with.” On the occasion that a midday lull at La Cocina affords him a break, he rallies his team over to a grassy patch outside of the restaurant.
“I love soccer. I want to motivate my coworkers and friends to do this. It’s healthy—when you run, when you play, it’s a stress relief,” he says. “At work breaks, sometimes we rest. But a lot of the time I take my teammates outside and we shoot the ball around for a little bit. Even if it’s just five or ten minutes, it’s practice.”
Zendejas-Nienhaus says that the Burlington Recreation and Parks Department has been very cooperative and helpful in providing a space for the tournament, which is free and will run through October.
Burlington, Mebane and 11 other towns are located in Alamance County, an area notorious for harsh immigration laws and practices. “This is being done in an environment that is, at many times, hostile to immigrants, or not very warm,” says Zendejas-Nienhaus. “Now, as immigrants, the restaurant workers and soccer players can be participants in a community event that embraces them. It’s also to show that the image of ourselves as a community is not always the image given to us here in Alamance County. We’re seen as people who do drugs or don’t work. We are people that work, people with families, people that live — and we’re involved in our community.”
“You coexist with people that may not understand you,” says Flores Valadez. But on a day of a soccer game, he adds, “nothing bothers you. You wake up in the morning at ease, like nothing can bother you."
Who knew there were so many ice cream songs? Here are dozen or so to get you through a long, hot summer.
See related story in the June 20 edition of DISH, the Indy's special food section.
This morning, Human Rights Watch released Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the U.S. to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment. The 95-page report includes 160 farmworker interviews in its research, with more than 20 of them from the fields of North Carolina.
An estimated 1.4 million crop workers and 429,000 livestock workers in the U.S. harvest and raise our food. Of those, according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), about 72 percent in 2007-2009 reported they were foreign-born.
Regardless of whether farmworkers possess legal working visas or are undocumented, various research shows they represent a labor class acutely susceptible to the violation of their human and workers’ rights. (Not included in the NAWS are about 68,000 foreign-born farmworkers who have work authorization under the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.)
According to NAWS, about a quarter of farmworkers are female. “Farmworker women can feel utterly powerless in the face of abusive supervisors or employers, and with good reason,” researcher Grace Meng said in a press release. “The abusers often repeat their actions over long periods of time, even after some workers complain.”
The report highlights abuses ranging from verbal sexual harassment to groping to rape. Other issues include unfair compensation, well below minimum wage. A female farmworker in North Carolina reported she had worked an eight- or nine-hour day and been paid only $34, less than $4 an hour. North Carolina’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
Many of the farmworkers interviewed were minors, and they use a pseudonym. As school ends for the summer, some North Carolina students will immediately begin working 40-plus-hour work weeks in the fields.
NC FIELD, a nonprofit farmworker advocacy group, confirmed that some of the girls from the youth-led Poder Juvenil Campesino featured in a recent Indy story were part of the report. In that story, 16-year-old Milly Lima, a U.S. citizen, spoke openly about the sexual harassment she says she experienced at ages 13 and 14 by her supervisor in Eastern North Carolina. When she reported the issue to the head contractor, she, her mother and grandmother, all working in the same field, were fired. She says two young girls at the same camp were being offered as prostitutes to the same supervisor.
The TROSA Grocery is near a prominent corner in a neighborhood that otherwise would not have a market within walking distance. Nonetheless, TROSA Grocery owners announced last week that it will soon close.
"We lost over $100,000 out of our own operating costs," said Jeff Stern, TROSA director of special projects. The store was supported through donations, too, including a rent-free arrangement from the building's owners, Joseph and Elaine Bushfan and former city councilman Dan Hill.
The small-scale grocery opened in May 2010 on the corner of Angier Avenue and Driver Street, offering fresh meats and produce, canned goods and other staples to the East Durham neighborhood. The majority of customers walked there to shop for their food.
Last November, Stern, who oversees the grocery, told the Indy that the store was still trying to break even. TROSA President Kevin McDonald confirmed that it never did.
When TROSA Grocery opened, national statistics ranked North Carolina among the top 10 hungry states, with more than 13 percent of its residents listed as food-insecure. The most recent statistics from 2011 show an increase, with more than 18 percent of North Carolina residents lacking access to fresh food within a quarter-mile walking distance.
The grocery lacked the space to stock a wider range of products and, in turn, customers outside the neighborhood didn't shop there. Efforts to increase business included weekly specials, which were listed on flyers distributed door-to-door in East Durham. Stern says the grocery did have "a lot of regular, loyal customers. A lot of people did change their shopping habits in order to support this store."
But the economies of scale—large chains can more cheaply buy goods than small stores—was part of the TROSA Grocery's undoing.
"We stuck it out," McDonald said. "You could go to Walmart and get cereal cheaper than we can buy it from the purveyor that was selling it to us because we are small."
Hill and the Bushfans, who own the adjacent Joe's Diner, began community businesses in East Durham through a Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization grant from the city. TROSA was a good match for their vision. The long-term, residential substance abuse recovery program runs several successful businesses in Durham—including a frame shop and a moving business—and employs members of TROSA's rehabilitation and job training program.
Hill and the Bushfans hope to bring in another market to the space. Joseph Bushfan also mentioned the idea of providing a commissary kitchen for food trucks and other small food businesses. "It's hard to attract any of the big companies to come into a low-income, low-wealth community," said Hill, who won a 2010 Citizen Award from the Indy for his work on the TROSA Grocery. "And to find those companies that have the social interest in being part of community change is hard. But we'd love to be able to find another grocery operator. One of the disadvantages TROSA had was they had never been in the grocery business before. It is a hard business. The profit margins, even when business is good, are so slim. To attract a grocer in here is going to require people that care a lot about making a change in the community."
Joe's Diner continues to provide a diverse set of customers with hot meals and a sense of community. Three years ago, says Bushfan, crime and gang activity would have deterred many people from venturing to that corner. Now people "eat with their feet," he says. He has already begun to cook outside on a four-foot wide grill to encourage the community to eat together. The menu includes ribs and fresh vegetable sides.
"You shouldn't wait for something crucial to happen to get to know your neighbor," he says. "[Through food] we are aiming to make a loving community."
An official closing date has not been announced. On May 12, TROSA Grocery will host a public yard sale in its back parking lot and a clearance sale within the store.
A newly published research study conducted by the Center for Worker Health at Wake Forest University found violations in North Carolina migrant housing. The paper, published in the March edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, reveals several violations of the North Carolina Migrant Housing Act at the 183 labor camps that were inspected.
It is the largest and most comprehensive study of farmworker housing in the southeastern United States. (Previous reports on N.C. labor camp conditions include A state of fear: Human rights abuses in North Carolina’s tobacco industry, produced by OxFam America and the Farmworker Labor Organizing Committee.)
The Wake Forest University research revealed prominent violations such as infestations of roaches, mice and rats; non-working toilets and showers; contaminated drinking water; and lack of fire safety equipment and smoke alarms.
“Housing of migrant farmworkers has historically been an issue of both safety and justice. That’s why we looked at it,” says Dr. Thomas A. Arcury. “This paper examined the compliance of specific regulations that applied to migrant housing. What we saw was wide non-compliance with current migrant housing regulations.”
The North Carolina Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing migrant housing law. Farmworker advocates from the NC Justice Center, Farmworker Advocacy Network and Toxic Free NC will finally meet with NCDOL Commissioner Cherie Berry on April 3, after ten years of requesting a formal meeting. They plan to discuss the findings of the report. Berry is up for reelection this year.
Arcury will also attend the meeting to present his findings. A public health scientist, his main research focuses on the N.C. farmworker demographic. He says not only must the compliance of existing regulations be enforced, but those regulations need to also be evaluated.
He cites an example in restroom conditions. According to current regulations, one shower head per 10 workers and three toilets per 15 workers, without a privacy wall in between, are considered in compliance.
“I would argue it’s not, from an occupational justice perspective,” he says.
Arcury conducted the first epidemiological study on green tobacco sickness and its effect on farmworkers in 1998. Other Wake Forest University studies this year include research on the nutrition of farmworker children and pesticide exposure in the fields.
Food truck vendors hungry to do business in Chapel Hill can apply for a permit beginning Thursday.
From the town's press release: The process will require several permits, including applications from the food truck vendor and the property owner, and business licenses, as well as documentation from the originating county's health department showing that approval has been given. The Town of Chapel Hill's annual fee for the food truck vendor is $718 while the annual fee for the property owner is $118. In addition, the food truck vendor must have a business license to operate in Chapel Hill.
Food truck vending is generally limited to commercially zoned, privately owned properties that can accommodate additional foot traffic. There are restrictions on food truck on-site locations and on hours of operation.
To apply for the associated permits to operate a food truck in Chapel Hill, visit the Permit Center on the 3rd floor of Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., or call 919-968-5066. Staff will help determine which permits an operator at a proposed location will need. For additional information posted online including a Frequently Asked Questions web page.
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, as the waiters and waitresses of America braced themselves for the flood of well-intentioned dinner dates, activists gathered in Raleigh to argue restaurant workers should be paid more.
The representatives from the NC Justice Center, N.C. Council of Churches, North Carolina MomsRising, and the North Carolina AFL-CIO met in Nash Square Park on Monday chose the date—Feb. 13—to symbolize the subminimum wage that many restaurant and service workers earn.
At $2.13 an hour, the subminimum wage, also called a tipping wage, is the portion of the minimum wage that employers must guarantee their workers. To earn more than $2.13 an hour, servers depend on tips. When the subminimum wage plus tips is less than the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25, employers then must make up the difference.
The result, according to a report released by the NC Justice Center, is an average hourly wage of $9.66 for the 340,000 food service and serving-related jobs in North Carolina. A full third of waiters and waitresses live at or below the federal poverty level.
Part of the problem is that the $2.13 tipping wage hasn’t increased in more than 20 years. After its introduction in 1966, the tipping wage was pegged at or near 50 percent of the federal minimum wage. However, in 1996 federal legislation, the tipping wage was frozen at $2.13 while minimum wage rose to $5.15. The tipping wage has remained at $2.13 ever since, even as the minimum wage has increased.
That five-dollar gap has enormous ramifications. “When two-thirds of your wage comes from whether or not the person in front of you likes the way you look, you end up acting in a way that matches their desires, not really as a human interaction,” said Sendolo Diaminah, who worked as a server from 2008—2011, after one year of looking for a job. Although he was a successful waiter, Diaminah’s income fluctuated widely depending on how busy his shifts happened to be, or if nearby Duke University was in session.
Current conditions in the restaurant industry are also a threat to public health, according to the NC Justice Center report’s author, Sabine Schoenbach. “In North Carolina, four out of five workers in food-service occupations lack paid sick days,” Schoenefeld wrote, often forcing them to work when they’re ill because they could not afford the lost income, or because they were afraid of losing their jobs.
She reports a statistic that two-thirds of restaurant workers had served or prepared food while sick, and a more horrifying statistic that 12 percent of restaurant workers had stayed on the job while experiencing vomiting and diarrhea.
The lack of paid sick days and volatility of income also has nuances of a gender equality issue, says Schoenbach, noting that almost 80 percent of tipped workers are women. Beth Messersmith, campaign director of NC MomsRising, says the conditions are especially difficult for mothers, who must balance motherhood with unforgiving schedules, and low wages with childcare costs. “Mothers shouldn’t have to choose between being good parents and good employees,” said Messersmith.
The voices and concerns from Nash Square echoed a national day of action from the Restaurant Opportunities Center, whose local branches nationwide met with national legislators to discuss the tipping wage.
The ROC is campaigning for the passage of the WAGES Act, a bill that would update the tipping wage to $5.50 over two years. The bill would also ensure the tipping wage would be at least 70 percent of the minimum wage.
The WAGES Act, however, is facing opposition from the National Restaurant Association and others. “I think ultimately what it’s about is passing the costs of uncertainty onto the workers,” said Diaminah. During the recession, he noticed diners continued to eat out, but tipped less—a hit absorbed entirely by his and his co-workers’ paychecks. “We become the shock absorber for the economy.”
There was no chicken coup in Cary Thursday night, as the Town Council postponed a final decision on whether to ease restrictions on backyard hens within the town limits.
The council voted 5-2 to direct town staff to draft an ordinance that would allow backyard hens, albeit with some restrictions. A public hearing will be held on the ordinance before the Town Council takes a final vote.
Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and Councilman Jack Smith cast the dissenting votes. Weinbrecht said he is concerned about the enforcement of the ordinance, real estate values of properties near homes with backyard hens and the possible conflicts with homeowners’ association covenants.
“I’m kind of leaning toward the Mayor’s perspective,” Smith said, in reference to homeowners’ association concerns. Although Smith voted against the request to revisit Cary’s ordinance, he did suggest that the eventual proposal should “have teeth” in it to reduce the likelihood of being overturned by the court.
Councilman Don Frantz, who used to oppose backyard chickens but has relaxed his views, and Councilwoman Gale Adcock proposed amending the ordinance to allow the fowl.
“Some concerns I’ve had are no longer concerns of mine,” Frantz said. He suggested several restrictions for the amendment, including a maximum of eight chickens per single-family home (a standalone home, meaning no single-family apartments), a ban on roosters and backyard slaughter. In addition, the chickens would be for personal use only and could not be sold. Each household with backyard chickens would pay a $10 licensing fee.
Frantz adopted the proposal from other ordinances that allow backyard hens—Carrboro, Raleigh, Wake Forest and Durham allow them, also with some restrictions. However, Frantz said even if council passes the ordinance, there should be a delay before it is implemented to allow homeowners’ associations to adjust.
Alissa Manfre, co-founder of Cary Chickens, which advocates for backyard hens, thanked Town Council for its “open-mindedness and being willing to reconsider this issue.”
Buckeyes and Buttercups, Lakenfelders and Leghorns: So many breeds of chickens, so few yards in Cary in which to raise them.
But Cary's great back yard chicken controversy could peak tonight as the Cary Town Council reconsiders an ordinance that would allow residents to raise hens in their back yards with some restrictions. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 316 N. Academy St.
With the exception of some rural areas in Cary, back yard chickens are prohibited within the town limits. But the tide may be turning for urban fowl: Even Councilman Don Frantz, a former opponent of back yard chickens, has reversed his position based on Cary residents' private property rights.
If passed, the ordinance would allow residents to raise up to eight chickens per property.
Only hens would be allowed—no roosters cock-a-doodling at 5:30 in the morning;
There would be an annual license fee of $10 per household raising the chickens (not per chicken);
Back yard slaughter would be prohibited, as would the sale of chickens;
Chickens would be required to remain in the coop or fenced yard when unsupervised; they would be allowed in the front yard with supervision (a good idea for kids, too!)
There are more proposed restrictions as well, listed on Frantz' blog.
Check out the Cary Chickens blog for more discussion on the issue.
The Chapel Hill Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to allow food trucks to do business there, joining the party that Carrboro and Durham have long hosted and Raleigh and Hillsborough recently hopped aboard.
Food trucks can grace Chapel Hill streets beginning March 1.
After 16 months of consideration, the council gave its seal of approval Monday following a brief presentation by Principal Planner Kendal Brown and no discussion.
Vendors must pay $743 annually to do business. That includes $118 for a zoning permit, $25 for a privilege license and $600 per truck to pay for code enforcement.
Business can occur only on private, commercial lots. Trucks cannot set up within 100 feet of a restaurant unless granted permission by the owner.