A grassroots Pennsylvania group that advocates for Latino and working-class communities said it convinced about 160 small businesses in the southern part of the state to close for a few hours as part of International Workers’ Day — May Day — demonstrations.
Make the Road Pennsylvania hosted rallies in Philadelphia, Reading, and Allentown as part of International Workers’ Day. They called for raising the minimum wage, changes in immigration policies, and making the Berks County Residential Center — which holds parents and children seeking asylum — into a drug treatment facility.
Business support varied by location. In Northeast Philadelphia, organizers estimated almost 20 businesses shut their doors. In Allentown, it was about a dozen businesses.
The vast majority of business that closed for May Day were from Reading.
“It’s a way that [politicians] can understand that we are supporting our own people, and we can do a strike for half a day. But if we decide they don’t do things in the right way, [the strike] can be longer,” said Sunilda Tejada owner of Caribe Travel in Reading.
Tejada said she shut down her travel agency for a few hours so she and her four employees could take part in the rally.
Though small-business owners are often framed as the potential losers in raising the minimum wage, Tejada said she doesn’t think that would be the case.
“As a business owner, I will be more than happy to help my employees,” she said. “If I’m economically in good health, I want exactly the same thing for my employees.”
“We find the way to make that money, like bringing more people to the store,” said Nelson Espinal, owner of the Fine Fair Supermarket in Reading.
Espinal, who closed his market, said he supports anything that would help the predominantly Latino community, including immigration reform.
“If the Latinos have jobs, my business is going to progress because of more [business] I’m going to have from the Latino community,” he said.
Espinal and Tejada want to see a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who have been living in the country for years and abiding by its laws.
“If we cannot survive in a certain area, by nature, we try to move to get what we need,” Tejada said, describing her views on immigration.
Ashleigh Strange, communications director for Make the Road Pennsylvania, said the issues activists are fighting for resonate with people across the state.
“Like raising the minimum wage, that’s a fight that we’re in with organizations across Pennsylvania,” Strange said. “Immigration reform, that’s something we need not just in Pennsylvania but across the country. Shutting down Berks, the Berks Detention Center, that’s obviously in Berks County, but it affects our communities here.”