The Trump administration’s latest attempt to crack down on undocumented workers targets 7-Eleven, and the convenience store chain’s corporate offices don’t necessarily see this as a problem, Bloomberg reports.
In January, immigration officers raided 98 7-Eleven stores in 17 states, serving inspection notices and arresting 21 suspected undocumented employees. Owners were ordered to provide records for every person who worked at the stores for the past three years, with 72 hours to comply. And while many considered 7-Eleven a symbolic choice for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids — “if ICE hoped to make a bold statement, it could hardly pick a more iconic target,” the New York Times wrote at the time of the raids — some franchise owners, many of whom are also immigrants, allege an ulterior motive on the part of the corporate office: Franchisees believe the corporate office is using the immigration crackdown as an opportunity to get rid of certain store owners.
Most of the nearly 9,000 7-Eleven stores in the U.S. are franchises, and since Joe DePinto became CEO of the convenience store chain, many franchise owners have had a contentious relationship with the company. According to Bloomberg, DePinto has asked franchisees for more money, inventory, and compliance, including keeping thousands of items stocked at all times and requiring that Red Bull cans are displayed with the logo to the front. Dissatisfied franchisees have organized and even sued 7-Eleven, and franchise owners say that the stores targeted by ICE tended to be those owned by people who have expressed displeasure with the company, like California store owner Gurtar Sandhu, who is involved in two lawsuits against the company.
According to officials with Homeland Security Investigations, 7-Eleven has given the government the names of franchisees, and “in some cases” this has caused immigration authorities to inspect their stores. 7-Eleven store owners who are found to be in violation of immigration law could be in breach of their franchise agreements. After four breaches of a franchise agreement in two years, the company can take over the store.
Government cooperation is just one of the ways 7-Eleven has targeted franchisees, according to Bloomberg. Potential immigration violations can be an excuse for the company to go after a store owner with hired corporate investigators who have been known to follow franchisees in unmarked vehicles, set up hidden cameras and bugs, and monitor their marks from a surveillance van made to look like a plumber’s truck.
7-Eleven claims it didn’t know about the January raids before they happened, and that it only gives the government information if there’s suspicion of criminal activity. Since January, 7-Eleven has introduced new measures to ensure the stores don’t hire undocumented workers, including a contract that requires stores to comply with immigration law and outsourcing payroll services. The company also invited a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security to speak at a franchisee meeting to the assembled store owners. When asked why immigration authorities were targeting 7-Eleven, she said only, “I understand getting this question. But I cannot specifically answer this question.” No doubt little comfort to a group made up largely of immigrants.