Ohio Restaurant Faces Backlash After Employee Walkout
Condado Tacos employees claim they were fired for refusing to fill a large order for law enforcement.
As protests against police brutality erupt nationwide, restaurant workers have faced new challenges, including navigating citywide curfews that put them at risk. Some restaurant workers feel they have been penalized for their views in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A restaurant chain in Columbus, Ohio, has faced significant backlash for firing employees who were uncomfortable filling an order for law enforcement, in the wake of high-profile police violence against protestors around the country. On Monday, the Ohio State Highway Patrol placed a large order at the Polaris location of Condado Tacos, and when several people refused to make it, they were fired, employees allege. The taco chain, which has 15 locations throughout the state, closed the Columbus locations on Tuesday to "allow room for conversation between our team."
Employee Jake Widdowson, who participated in the walkout, tells Food & Wine, “I think because we had 500 taco orders, the district manager happened to be there that day. And when he found out that some of us were refusing to make that food, he said, and I quote, 'Tell anyone refusing to work they’re fired.’ As we’re leaving, he chases us down, and starts saying, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, you don’t have to make this food … if you walk out right now, that’s you quitting.’” In one post with over 13,000 retweets, an employee said that he was forced to fill the order on his day off, and those who walked out were fired.
In a statement shared Food & Wine, the company claims that employees were given the option to refuse filling the order without repercussions, and that their jobs are still available to them. The statement also said, "Choosing not to serve a particular group, in this case law enforcement officers, in itself is discrimination and goes against our core values to welcome and serve everyone."
As the incident spread rapidly on social media, Yelp, and Google Reviews, Candado Tacos insisted on Facebook and Instagram that staff were not forced to fill the order. “A few team members chose not to complete their work shifts. While no one was fired last night and if they want it, everyone’s job remains intact, we understand emotions are high.”
Widdowson says he's joined by fellow employees who feel the incident is part of a larger trend of tone-deafness and discrimination within the company, though he stresses that his direct managers have stood in solidarity with him and his coworkers. On Twitter, employee Samaria Alli posted a letter from several staff members to upper management, which alleges that the company "has swept MULTIPLE sexual harassment and race cases to the side." (On these allegations, Condado Tacos tells Food & Wine, "We cannot comment on internal personnel matters but we can say that we do not tolerate harassment of any kind. We take all such reports very seriously, investigate them thoroughly and take steps appropriate to the situation following our policy.")
“I’m not trying to take the company down,” Widdowson says. “We're in a crossroads of history. It's up to the people to decide what to do next.”
The company has offered to meet with employees about their walkout concerns on Thursday, June 4. However, Widdowson believes this is more of a PR play than actual genuine concern about the issues. She and other employees have criticized upper management—as well as the PR firm the company has employed—for its lack of diversity.
“Black lives matter and I think we need to keep saying that and saying that, and white silence is violence,” Widdowson said in an interview with Eater. “Condado is a Mexican food company owned entirely by white people who claimed to be supportive of their community, but they take money from police and aren’t willing to give that back to protestors who need actual support right now.”