Q&A: Restaurant Workers Movement is Just Beginning

Sep. 3, 2013 / By

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New America Media, Question & Answer, Viji Sundaram

Ed. Note: Hundreds of fast food workers from about 60 cities nationwide struck work Aug. 29 demanding a minimum wage of $15-an-hour and union privileges. Oakland, Calif. resident Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, said labor rights leaders are going to continue maintaining the pressure on restaurant owners until their employees are given a living wage. She spoke to NAM health editor Viji Sundaram the day after the strike.

NAM: Were you satisfied with Thursday’s turnout? And have you heard of any retaliatory action against those who struck work?

Saru Jayaraman: It was a great turnout, and no, we haven’t heard of any retaliatory action so far.

NAM: What is the mission of your organization, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-U) and why did you start it?

SJ: We started it after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when some 72 employees of the Windows on the World restaurant, housed in the World Trade Center, lost their lives and many were displaced.

NAM: The SEUI organized yesterday’s strike, even though less than one percent of restaurant workers are unionized. Will it help employees achieve what they are trying to get by joining a union?

SJ: Unions are not the only way to organize. My organization, ROC-U is trying to improve working conditions for restaurant workers. We have 10,000 members in 30 cities and around 100 employer partners, and several consumer members, and we have led and won 13 major campaigns against exploitation in high-profile restaurant companies.

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