(CNN)Jim Serowski knew his employees planned to skip work last Thursday.
They told him they wanted to participate in “A Day Without Immigrants,” the nationwide day of protest. Serowski, founder of JVS Masonry in Commerce City, Colorado, said his position to them was clear:
“If you’re going to stand up for what you believe in, you have to be willing to pay the price.”
When Serowski’s foreman and some 30 bricklayers failed to show up for work, he fired them all with no regrets, he said.
So they were fired, just like anyone else who’s a no-show for work, he said.
“I’m on their side, but we have rules at I Don’t Care Bar and Grill,” he said. “If you’re going to be late, call in. If you’re not coming to work, call us. That’s the American way.”
News of the firings sparked criticism and heated debate on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Beneath a job posting to replace the fired employees, some customers vowed to never return to the restaurant. Others stood by the restaurant, saying the workers deserved to be fired for not showing up.
As one critic of the decision wrote, addressing the business, “You missed the larger picture. What you fired were not employees who did not show up. You fired employees who are willing to fight for their principles and yours. Because when one group of people is harassed the next group may be yours.”
And, as someone else noted in response, “The larger picture: Those who stand with lawbreakers and condone lawbreaking need to suffer consequences for their actions.”
Six of the fired Hispanic immigrant workers told CNN affiliate KTUL they felt they had been unfairly terminated. They wanted to stand in solidarity with other immigrants, they said through a translator. They didn’t think it would cost them their jobs.
Under US labor law, at-will workers can be fired with no warning and without a stated reason.
McNally also said his action had nothing to do with politics. Had he known about the protests, he said he would have closed the restaurant in solidarity.
Why fire them, then?
“They just forgot about the 50 other people who work here,” he said. “If the cooks don’t show up, then servers don’t have jobs, and customers can’t eat.”
Not so fast in New York
A restaurant owner in New York disputed local media reports that he similarly had fired a group of protest participants. The owner of Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers disputed the story and said he is a longtime supporter of minority rights.
Ronnie Dragoon, of Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen, said he fired just one employee — and only because that worker pressured others to walk out and physically threatened two of them.
“All other employees involved with the walkout were, and still are, invited to return to their positions with the company,” the local restaurant chain said.
Added Dragoon, “And yes, I am the grandchild of immigrants, and I have been a progressive my entire life and will continue to be a progressive.”