Dusek’s Board & Beer is the subject of a boycott, as livid Facebook commenters vented after a dishwasher was fired last week after he didn’t show up to work on Thursday, the day of the immigrant strike—a labor action that more than 50 Chicago restaurants participated in. The news spread on Sunday, as Pilsen is a Mexican hub that’s keenly attuned to matters of immigration and gentrification. After the out cry, Dusek’s management has now reversed course. They’ve offered the dishwasher his job back, according to a news release.
However, the worker—21-year-old Eliseo Real, a first-generation Mexican-American who grew up in Little Village—said he’s not coming back after reading some of the cruel comments made by Dusek’s workers that attacked his work ethic and reasons to participate in the strike.
“It woke me up a little bit that you can’t really trust everybody that you work with,” Real said.
The story goes like this: Dusek’s chef Henry Hill, according to Real, fired the protester and allegedly discounted Real’s explanation for missing work by using the phrase “that’s great for Mexicans, but you can’t do that !@#t here.” This exchange is disputed. The supposed lack of empathy ignited divisions between those sympathetic to immigrants and those focused purely on restaurant operations.
Initially, Dusek’s maintained that Real deserved to be fired but would have been retained if he notified the restaurant of his intentions instead of no showing. Real has a new job, hired as dishwasher at La Vaca Margarita Bar where he’ll start on Wednesday. He had been working for Dusek’s for a month.
Dusek’s has been a Michelin-starred restaurant for the last two years, a rarity in Pilsen. Co-owner Bruce Finkelman, a partner in 16” On Center, posted a response on the thread. He apologized and reiterated that the employee didn’t show and didn’t call. For many of Mexican descent in Pilsen, Dusek’s, and complementary concert venue Thalia Hall, represent symbols of gentrification, catering to more of a white crowd that prices some locals out. Some have taken to troll Dusek’s Facebook and Yelp pages to show their disgust by posting low ratings.
Finkelman’s response attempted to address that uncomfortable stigma, writing that it was “unfortunate for sure to be blistered for a cause we so strongly believe in.” After sitting down with staff they’re all in agreement that Thursday’s strike brought special circumstances and that the worker shouldn’t have been fired.
“Since day one, Dusek’s has diligently worked side by side with the Pilsen community to not only stand in full support of immigration rights, but to also celebrate the cultural fabric of our neighborhood.” Finkelman wrote. “We’re thankful to employ many of the hard-working people who live in Pilsen, and without them, our restaurant simply would not exist.”
Some wondered if management properly addressed the strike before Thursday and told employees they had the option of participating. Some were shocked Dusek’s would go as far as to fire the employee with employees missing work all over the country. They wondered why the worker wasn’t warned instead of losing his job. This reasoning swayed Dusek’s and convinced them to offer Real his job back.
“On the other end, your business fired someone immediately for supporting immigrant rights. While I know the no-call and no-shows are not desirable, don't you think the immense violence confronting immigrants at this moment and standing in solidarity with that struggle should have superseded the inconvenience you experienced or (possible) lapse in judgement displayed the by employee,” wrote Ricardo Gamboa, who called for the boycott.
Other workers who participated in the strike have been fired elsewhere. The issue isn’t conclusive. While some blamed Real for not giving his employer proper notice, others brought up their own experiences, saying it’s a privilege to work and no one should jeopardize that with poor communication.
No matter how diplomatic Finkelman attempted to be, it became a bit of a public relations adventure when a poster who claimed to work at Dusek’s added his own takes and attacked the boycotters. He didn’t understand how racism affected the situation and wrote that the worker deserved to be fired. The comments from that particular co-worker angered Real. They’ve never been formally introduced he said that he’s never spoken a word to him or shaken his hand.
Real, whose mother—a Mexican immigrant—worked for 23 years at a Little Village laundromat, encouraged her son to participate in the strike. She wasn’t mad at her son for losing his job. Real has an activist background in theater.
“She didn’t say anything crazy,” Real said. “She told me that it didn’t matter and that I would be able to find another job anywhere. Those people aren’t people you’d want to work with if they’re going to act like that anyway.”
In the end, Real said the strike worked. It showed how important immigrants are to the restaurant world, as Dusek’s staff—including the chef—had to wash dishes last week.