A Swank Sushi Joint Gets a May Day Scolding From Angry Workers

By Jake Blumgart

On May 1, International Worker’s Day, a half circle of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) members and supporters surrounded the entrance to Fat Salmon, a high-end sushi restaurant in Philadelphia. They watched as Diana A. (she asked her last name not be used) walked into the restaurant to deliver a prepared statement denouncing, among other things, what some workers have described as an intricate system for stealing their tips.

Diana and two other workers have been “on strike” since last April 15, when they confronted the restaurant’s owner, Jack Yoo, with a similar statement listing their grievances. The May Day document included the names of four other employees who are still working but signed on in support. (Fat Salmon workers are not unionized, but the National Labor Relations Act protects any worker, union or not, who “engage in…concerted activities for the purpose of… mutual aid or protection.”)

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Grin and Abhor It: The Truth Behind ‘Service with a Smile’

By Sarah Jaffe

A waitress juggling plates at Big Juds Burgers in Boise forgets to smile--in some restaurants, that could endanger her job.   (Kenneth Freeman/Flickr/Creative Commons)

A waitress juggling plates at Big Juds Burgers in Boise forgets to smile–in some restaurants, that could endanger her job. (Kenneth Freeman/Flickr/Creative Commons)

No, that waitress isn’t flirting with you.

Neither is the barista at your local Starbucks, nor the counter server at the Pret A Manger near your office, and you might be surprised to learn that the stripper at your local club doesn’t have a deep fondness for you, either.

Pretending to love one’s work, to be overjoyed by the ability to serve you coffee or pizza or dance for your tips, is an integral part of the job for service workers. “Service with a smile” is expected from anyone who deals with customers, and as Josh Eidelson and Timothy Noah pointed out last week at The Nation and The New Republic respectively, sometimes low-wage service employers require much more.

Eidelson reported on the recent move by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to push baristas to write “Come Together” on coffee cups in support of “bipartisan” deficit fear-mongering—to “draft its employees as a delivery system for austerity.” Schultz is a supporter of the “Fix the Debt” campaign started by ultra-rich ideologues that demands spending cuts (especially on social safety net programs) in supposed service of reducing the national debt.

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Wage Theft and Low Wage Work in Philadelphia

by Stuart Elliott

Talking Union contributor Jake Blumgart has written a couple of outstanding articles on low-wage workers and wage theft.  In an interesting cover story  on wage theft in Philadelphia’s City Paper. He portrays some victims of wage theft: an undocumented carpenter, a waitress forced to share tips with her manager, and a coffee shop worker who wasn’t paid overtime despite working every day for two weeks. He also places the problems of low wage workers in historical perspective with some surprising facts.

In the past, unionization was a strong option for workers who wanted to defend against employer abuses. During the 1950s, within the now theft-wracked restaurant industry, 25 percent of America’s waitresses were unionized. Today, just 1.5 percent of food-service workers are organized. There are few remaining unionized independent restaurants in greater Philadelphia: the stadium-adjacent McFadden’s, Hymie’s Deli in Lower Merion and the Pen and Pencil Club, for example. Now, organizers tend to focus their efforts on the industry’s biggest employers, like food-services provider Aramark.

Nontraditional worker organizations provide an alternative to unions, but in Philadelphia there are only two options: the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania and the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), which is barely a year old.

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New Diner’s Guide Focuses on Labor Conditions

On December 3, at ROC High Road Roundtable member Eatonville in Washington, D.C., the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC unveiled a National Diners’ Guide 2012: A Consumers Guide on the Working Conditions of America’s Restaurants (www.rocunited.org/dinersguide). As the holiday season for dining out and office parties at restaurants begins, the Guide makes it easy for consumers and companies to evaluate more than 150 restaurants and national chains based on a number of key criteria:- Do they provide paid sick days to ensure that those who handle and serve food are not passing on illnesses?- Do they pay at least $9 per hour to non-tipped workers and at least $5 per hour to tipped workers? (The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour for non-tipped workers and just $2.13 for tipped workers.

– Do they provide opportunities for advancement, so that at least 50 percent of their employees were promoted to those positions from within?

More than half of all restaurant workers earn incomes below the federal poverty line, and workers of color are concentrated in the industry’s lowest-wage positions.

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William Greider to keynote Detroit Douglass-Debs Dinner

William Greider

Detroit DSA‘s (Democratic Socialists of America) Frederick Douglass-Eugene V. Debs Dinner is  Saturday, October 1st at UAW Local 600 (10500 Dix Avenue, Dearborn.) Honorees this year are Reverend Ed Rowe, Senior Pastor of Central United Methodist Church and the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan. The  keynote speaker is The Nation’s National Affairs Correspondent William Greider. Dinner co-chairs are Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams and UAW Vice-President James Settles, Jr.

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Justice is Served: Community Celebrates Michigan Restaurant Workers’ ‘Groundbreaking Victory’

by David Green

Restaurant Opportunities Center--Michigan

After a 15-month long workplace justice campaign over employment discrimination and wage violations at Andiamo Dearborn Restaurant, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan (ROC-MI) and Andiamo Restaurant Group have achieved a groundbreaking victory.

Andiamo Restaurant Group has agreed to a confidential settlement agreement that includes innovative anti-discrimination measures, complete resolution procedures, training, break, uniform, and equipment policies, as well as translation of employment materials for non-English speakers.

This marks a groundbreaking victory for metro-Detroit restaurant workers and the service industry as a whole. In an industry riddled with countless cases of poor employment standards in restaurants across the region, ROC-MI and its community allies successfully supported and fought for justice for the Dearborn workers.

In encouraging high-road practices, ROC-MI has helped ensure that Andiamo of Dearborn will be a better place to work and a more socially responsible place to dine.

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