Our History

ROC United was launched in January 2008 based on calls for support from around the country.

Saru Jayaraman and Fekkak Mamdouh, the co-founders of ROC-NY, organized the country’s first national restaurant workers’ convening in Chicago in August 2007, where ROC United was born. Since its founding after 9/11, ROC-NY has successfully conducted restaurant workplace justice campaigns, provided job training and placement, opened its own cooperative restaurant, and conducted research and policy work. Although initially founded after September 11th, 2001 to provide support to restaurant workers displaced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy, ROC-NY has grown to support restaurant workers all over New York City and advocate for improved working conditions.

Based on our successful efforts in New York City, restaurant workers in several other cities have approached us about initiating ROC branches in their cities. Thus, we created ROC United, a national organization that launches and manages local Restaurant Opportunities Centers across the country, including New Orleans, Miami, Michigan, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Oakland, Houston, Boston, and Washington, DC. Each local ROC conducts a comprehensive study of restaurant workers’ needs, and creates an advanced restaurant worker training and placement program that seeks to place workers in high-end restaurant jobs.

Over the last five years, ROC has won 13 workplace justice campaigns against exploitative high-profile restaurant companies, obtaining more than $10 million and improvements in workplace policies for restaurant workers. We have also trained more than 1,000 restaurant workers to find good jobs and advance within the industry, published several ground-breaking reports on the restaurant industry, played an instrumental role in winning a statewide minimum wage increase for tipped workers, organized 40 restaurant workers to open their own cooperatively-owned restaurant, and grown to include more than 13,000 restaurant workers in our membership from at least 26 states.