John Collins worked his way up from day laborer to area manager at the Oklahoma City branch of TruGreen LandCare, a division of the national conglomerate Servicemaster. But on April 27, he quit -- the direct result of TruGreen's decision last week to close down operations in its Red River region on May 1 so that its Latino workers could participate in immigration-related protests.
But it wasn't just that: In Oklahoma City, non-Latino TruGreen workers wouldn't be allowed to work either. And all work missed on May 1 would be made up on Saturday, May 6 -- normally a day off.
The trouble began before that. Angered by demonstrations earlier this month in which Latinos and their supporters poured into the streets demanding amnesty for illegal workers, Mr. Collins, 32, had already written to his congressmen and senators. Watching the massive marches on television was "like driving a knife right through me," said the 10-year military veteran. "I couldn't believe people would stand for that. That is absolutely against every American principle that I fought for and believe in."
Then on April 25 at the company's Oklahoma City offices, Mr. Collins saw a sign on a dry-erase board announcing a mandatory all-employee meeting slated for 5 p.m. Curious, he asked his manager, Brad Walker, what the meeting was about.
Mr. Walker said the company had elected to give Latino workers the day off on May 1 in order to "stand up for their culture."
Mr. Collins replied that the May 1 protests weren't about culture, but about "bringing the American economy to its knees," he told WORLD, "so that we'll grant some sort of overnight amnesty" to illegal workers. Mr. Collins believes that TruGreen's Latino workers, which in Oklahoma City comprise 80 to 90 percent of its labor force, are here legally. But he wants to know: "If the company hires only legal workers, what business does it have shutting down the company to support illegal workers?"
Mr. Collins told Mr. Walker that he wouldn't be at the meeting: "I'm not going to legitimize this thing," he said. He told Mr. Walker that he and the English-speaking American citizens (two white, one Native American) on his crew would be showing up for work on May 1 at 6:30am. Mr. Walker said no: TruGreen's doors will be locked.
"Then you'll have to stand in front of the door and physically stop me," Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Walker declined to comment for this story.
On April 26, Mr. Collins called The Daily Oklahoman to tell editors what was going on at TruGreen. He also called in live to the "Rick Roberts Show," a regional radio talk-show. Later that day, Joe Saldovar, a Dallas manager for TruGreen called John and suggested that he let the issue go. Mr. Saldovar told Mr. Collins he should "relax, take a deep breath," and perhaps apologize to his Oklahoma City manager, according to Mr. Collins. That way Mr. Collins would still have a job and the whole issue would just blow over. Mr. Saldovar would not comment on the conversation and told WORLD, "I'm not at liberty to give out information on that right now."
The next day a TruGreen regional manager came to Oklahoma City and investigated Mr. Collins's complaint. The company then agreed that non-Latino workers who wished to work on May 1 could do so but asked Mr. Collins not to speak to any more media. That's when Mr. Collins decided he'd had enough with the landscape chain and quit, even though it meant moving in with his parents (along with his fiancée and five-month-old daughter) in order to make ends meet. His non-Latino co-workers are at work today, but for him the issue is larger. "I didn't fight for this country so I could see Mexican flags flying in the streets. Somebody's got to stand up and stop this," he said.