ROC United Celebrates 19 Years of Empowering Restaurant Workers

Featuring Senator Cory Booker, the online celebration honored the invaluable contributions of restaurant workers and underscored the organization’s achievements in improving the lives and working conditions of restaurant and service-industry workers nationwide

NEW YORK, NY – Thousands watched an online ceremony today as the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United celebrated its 19 years of groundbreaking work fighting for living wages and better working conditions for nearly 14 million restaurant workers nationwide. The virtual celebration featured Senator Cory Booker who, in his remarks, honored the essential contributions of restaurant workers in this unprecedented economic and public health crisis.

During today’s event, Senator Cory Booker remarked, “Most restaurant workers and other tipped service workers are living often in poverty and relying on public assistance, working still 40, 60 even 80 hours a week, struggling to pay their rent and provide for their children. This is wrong, morally wrong. The federal minimum wage for restaurant workers has not budged in almost 30 years. We know that in states with subminimum wages, workers are more than twice as likely to live in poverty and rely on Medicaid compared to the rest of the US workforce. That is morally wrong.”

Founded in Sept. 2001, amid the grief following the 9/11 tragedy, ROC United has been on the frontlines of the struggle for racial and gender equity, economic and social justice for almost two decades, working to improve the lives of restaurant workers and the condition of the restaurant industry. Celebrating many victories and, at the same time, facing tough challenges through the years, ROC United has activated over 500,000 low-wage workers, 860 employer partners and tens of thousands consumer allies.

Dr. Sekou Siby, president and CEO of ROC United, said, “As we celebrate our 19th anniversary, we will continue to uphold our core values, our mission to advocate for restaurant workers who are still undervalued, underpaid and unnoticed. Despite their sacrifices to ensure our country functions during these challenging times, these essential workers continue to endure unsafe working conditions, racial and gender inequality, subminimum wages and harassment. We will double down on our capacity and impact, expanding our program areas and foundational work centered on living wages, robust job protections and better working conditions.”

To date, with 11 chapters nationwide, ROC has succeeded in passing higher minimum wages and the full minimum wage for tipped workers in more than 10 states and 20 major cities. The organization played an instrumental role in winning policy advancements, such as increased paid sick leave, combating wage theft and instituting one fair wage.

Since the coronavirus unfolded in March, ROC United has distributed over 1 million dollars to more than 5,000 restaurant workers who lost their jobs to restaurant shutdowns.

Sophi Hirsch, a restaurant worker in California, who is currently out of work due to the pandemic said, “I’m so grateful for the ROC Relief Fund. I have been out of work since March 15th, and we’re now into September. A lot of folks I knew had a hard time applying for unemployment and didn’t see it for months, but the fact that I was able to apply for this relief fund, it offered me hope. It gave me a chance to know that I was not floundering, that I had a community behind me.”

Over the years, ROC United has won dozens of workplace justice campaigns against national food chains totalling over $10 million. ROC has vowed to do everything in its capacity to have an industry and a society where our restaurant workers, their children, their families and communities can live and work with security, justice, respect and dignity.