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TGI Fridays CEO says immigration reform is one of the biggest challenges in the restaurant industry

Submitted by Tech Insider on January 14, 2020 - 1:03pm

TGI Fridays

ORLANDO, Florida — As the restaurant industry grapples with low unemployment rates, TGI Fridays' CEO is calling for immigration reform. 

TGI Fridays CEO Ray Blanchette told Business Insider that one of the top challenges in the restaurant industry in 2020 is the "confusing" legislative environment. 

"We need immigration reform," Blanchette said in an interview on Monday at the ICR Conference in Orlando, Florida. "Think about who we serve, who our team members are, and having access to a healthy flow of talent."

"150 years ago, an immigrant would come here and work in infrastructure," Blanchette continued. "Building the country was roads or railroads or skyscrapers — those were the jobs that were available to immigrants. Today ... we are the place where immigrants break the cycle of poverty for their families forever." 

Blanchette said that the restaurant industry should have worked harder to push for meaningful immigration reform, as immigrants make up a sizeable portion of the industry's workers.

With unemployment at a half-century low of 3.5% in December, many chains are struggling to staff restaurants with competent workers — or, in some cases, to fully staff them at all. The CEOs of Shake Shack and Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, also said this week at the ICR Conference that labor was a top challenge in 2020.

Blanchette said that if the restaurant industry had been more open to discussing raising the federal minimum wage to $10 under the Obama administration, it could have avoided the current push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. As wages rise closer to $15, Blanchette said that restaurants have been forced to cut back workers' hours and reduce the number of employees working in locations. 

"I'm not making a political statement at all," Blanchette said. "I'm making a statement on behalf of our team members. That is my constituency."

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