One of these is the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, or ROC, led by the organization’s co-founder and co-director, Saru Jayaraman. A lawyer, professor, and acclaimed labor organizer, Jayaraman and her colleagues created ROC to support the surviving workers of a restaurant located at the World Trade Center in 2001. Since then, they have won more than $10 million in back wages for restaurant workers, waged successful political campaigns, and built a membership of 18,000 restaurant workers in 15 states.
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“Anyone who is an insider in the restaurant industry know that there is a hiring crisis,” said Alex Galimberti, a national director at ROCU. “It’s hard to hire people and retain staff paying minimum wage, especially in large cities...
Sexual harassment is pervasive and well-documented. A study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that significant number of women feared “financial loss, public humiliation or job termination if they tried to report sexual harassment from management and customers.”
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One day, while I was preparing his usual cup of coffee, he said, “Hey, little black girl, you got enough milk in those jugs for my coffee?” I was stunned and embarrassed. I forced a smile, gave him his coffee, and went straight to my manager.
“Oh it’s no big deal,” he replied. “He’s kidding!”
Among female restaurant workers, 80 percent report being sexually harassed on the job, according to a report from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Undocumented female workers, many of whom also work in the food industry, are extremely vulnerable to harassment too because their employers know they can’t go to the police or easily get another job.
Centro modeled its campaign after a similar effort by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United or ROCUnited to secure better working conditions for immigrant restaurant workers in New York.