How Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Message Still Resonates With Restaurant Workers Today

January 18, 2021

As we join others in honoring the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I encourage to reflect on the ideals he espoused, the values that he fought and died for, and his vision for a country that believed in respect and dignity for all workers.

Dr. King dedicated his life to ending discrimination and eradicating poverty. He believed in a guaranteed living wage, better working conditions and equal opportunities for people of color. All of these issues still resonate strongly with our restaurant workers today.

On the day that Dr. King was killed in Memphis, TN in 1968, not many people know to this day that he was there to support African American garbage workers, who were protesting unsafe working conditions, abusive white employers and low wages.

Dr. King once said: “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions…health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community…”

“The labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who today attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”

In the spirit of Dr. King’s nonviolent movement, let’s remember the great accomplishments of restaurant workers and address the challenges they face in the workplace, most especially in this time of pandemic and political unrest.

Despite the growing diversity of our workforce and their valuable contributions to our economy, low-wage restaurant workers still bear the brunt of unfair policies and are often taken advantage of by bad-faith employers. Because of race, gender, and economic disparities, it is difficult for restaurant workers and their families to thrive.

Dr. King added: “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We mustn’t forget Dr. King’s hard work and sacrifices, as well as the mantle of responsibility that he left to each of us. Let’s continue the work and embrace the ideas and actions that strengthen our restaurant industry, hardworking families and communities.