In Nation’s Restaurant News’ first annual Power List, ROC United’s co-founder & co-director, Saru Jayaraman, is listed as one of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry. The list includes a wide-variety of well-known names — from CEOs to activists — including Michael Pollan (of Food Inc.), Clarence Otis Jr. (CEO of Darden Restaurants Inc, the world’s largest full-service restaurant brand), and executives from Starbucks, McDonalds, and YUM! Brands.
From Nation’s Restaurant News:
Saru Jayaraman would like the public to be just as concerned about the welfare of restaurant employees as it is about animal welfare and sustainable food practices.
Jayaraman is the co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an organization originally founded to support the Windows on the World restaurant workers displaced after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. ROC now has about 10,000 members in 19 cities, including Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and Miami.
The organization has assisted employees in filing lawsuits against restaurants over issues of pay, discrimination and working conditions, including lawsuits against high-end celebrity chefs such as Daniel Boulud in New York. It also has sponsored protests and demonstrations for restaurant employees seeking minimum wage increases, better pay in the quick-service segment and health care coverage.
In addition, ROC helped restaurant workers establish Colors, a cooperative restaurant with units in New York and Detroit that provides free training to help workers develop skills to pursue restaurant careers.
A daughter of immigrants from southern India, Jayaraman is a graduate of Yale Law School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She grew up in a Mexican-American neighborhood in southeast Los Angeles. Fluent in Spanish, she has long been an advocate for immigrants and the underprivileged.
Her latest book, “Behind the Kitchen Door,” explores the political, economic and moral implications of dining out. In it, Jayaraman examines poor working conditions and discriminatory labor practices by chronicling the lives of restaurant employees in major urban cities.