ROC in the News
In early March, just as the pandemic was looming on the horizon, but before any government-mandated shutdowns, a chef in the city’s rapidly growing restaurant industry started a Facebook page called “Nashville Hospitality Union.” Soon more than 1,000 restaurant workers had joined the page.
“Virtual restaurant workers are more vulnerable because of the nature of the employment itself,” says Sekou Siby of ROC United. “A ghost kitchen may change locations, like a pop-up, so the Labor Department doesn’t know where it is. In order to file a complaint, you need to know where your employer is.”
“We will support the bill as long as there is a guarantee that restaurant workers will at least earn similar wages before the pandemic,” said Anthony Advincula, spokesman for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a non-profit advocating for higher wages and better working conditions for restaurant workers.
“For too long,” according to restaurant workers, “we’ve let a powerful few block efforts to ensure paid time to care for our loved ones and recover from illness ourselves. When any one of us does not have access to paid time off to stay home, all of us are at risk.”
“We are pushing for the expansion and extension of unemployment insurance across the country, especially in Florida where there are workers who are still waiting for their UI and now that the coronavirus cases in the state are rising,” said ROC spokesperson.
Kylie Davis, a 23-year-old bartender in Tampa, Florida, had returned to work May 23 after two months without a job, struggling to collect unemployment benefits from Florida’s backlogged system.
Stacey Abrams pressed the issue of “right to return,” an idea that in this context would encourage or require hiring managers to give employees furloughed or laid off during COVID closures the right of refusal to reclaim their jobs before they get offered to anyone else.
“We have to treat restaurant workers better because we rely on you,” Stacey Abrams said at the event, organized by advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. “We depend on you to step into the gap and to support our communities.”
ROC United called for Applebee’s and IHOP to provide comprehensive paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave and income relief to all its workers affected by COVID-19 — and shamed them for not providing it.
As the nation rises up to protest police brutality and racial injustice, some organizations, like ROC United, are working to advance Black food sovereignty.
Rachel Litwiller, a 20-year veteran of the restaurant industry who is a server at Coach’s Pub and Grill in Lansing, hopes the pandemic leads to change in the industry. She is involved with restaurant-worker rights group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. The pandemic has brought home the importance of both for her.
DuJuan Robinson, a longtime restaurant cook and sometime kitchen manager, had been taking an extended break from the industry even before the health crisis began.
Nour Qutyan, a representative from Restaurant Opportunities Center, honed in on the need to expand unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Low-wage workers, particularly in the food service industry, have already experienced job losses because of COVID-19. For those still working, “raising the minimum wage is still as important as it’s ever been,” said Eli Edleson-Stein of ROC United.
Restaurant Opportunities Center for Minnesota (ROC) in a socially distanced protest outside of Barbette in Uptown, where Bartmann keeps her offices, on May 20 to directly deliver their demands.
All of the proceeds raised during the Chicago auction will benefit local undocumented hospitality workers through grocery boxes from Restaurant Opportunities Center and Chefs’ Warehouse; for every dollar raised, one meal will be provided to a worker in need. Bids will be collected through Saturday, June 20.
Ask Chefs Anything, an online auction where participants bid on 30-minute virtual conversations with chefs, in partnership with ROC United and Chefs’ Warehouse, will raise funds to distribute grocery boxes to Chicago’s undocumented hospitality community.
By late 2014, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United said it would ask D.C. voters to approve a ballot measure increasing the city’s minimum wage to $15.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center is collecting donations (like groceries, diapers, toiletries, and monetary donations) through Facebook and NextDoor.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center of D.C., wrote a letter to Bowser and the D.C. Council, responding to the plan.
Though some workers have gotten their jobs back since shelter-in-place orders changed to allow more Bay Area restaurants to reopen, many are working minimal hours and cannot cover basic expenses with their wages, says Maria Moreno of ROC United.
“If a person cannot work because they have a responsibility to take care of someone, and they have been working for this company, the least thing they can do is hold their job,” said Manny Villanueva of ROC United.
“The restaurant industry often employs very vulnerable sectors of the population: seniors, women, people of color, the undocumented,” says Manuel Villaneuva, lead organizer for the Los Angeles chapter of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United. “Some employers know first-hand the vulnerability of the employees.”
Manuel Villanueva, lead organizer with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles, called it “a slap in the face to those immigrant workers who are putting their life at risk right now to feed us.”
If you have been laid off from a restaurant or bar, a number of new emergency relief funds are now available to offer financial assistance, including through the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.
Thousands of small businesses are struggling in Florida, with most either looking for creative ways to keep revenue flowing, or finding other revenue sources like loans to keep them alive. For restaurant workers, the Restaurant Opportunities Center is also offering assistance.
The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United has shifted its focus to help both documented and undocumented restaurant workers who lose their jobs during the pandemic. With a goal of raising $500,000 for its emergency relief fund, the organization is taking donations on its website.
The petition against Kim Bartmann restaurant, created by the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota, had more than 1,500 signatures Tuesday morning. It alleges that Bartmann’s restaurants “were under declining management and investment” before the coronavirus outbreak.
Anthony Advincula of ROC United said low-income workers and people of color will face a cruel dilemma: “Stay home and not make money, or go to work even if they are sick or risk becoming infected.”
The Restaurant Opportunities Center, along with other groups advocating for restaurant workers, is trying to raise at least $1 million for undocumented families.
The restaurant industry represents close to five percent of our GDP, “employing more than nine percent of the total private sector workforce in about 615,000 restaurant establishments around the country,” according to the Restaurant Opportunities Center United.
“We’re so delighted, we could not express [enough] gratitude to foundations and individual donors,” said Anthony Advincula, Public Affairs officer and National Policy Coordinator for the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) fund, a nonprofit that has created an emergency relief fund to provide money to documented and undocumented restaurant workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Jim Conway, a server in an Olive Garden in Pennsylvania, has been out of work. “Being an older worker, I’m in no hurry to go back in the middle of an epidemic,” Conway, 63, said. “Being a server means you’re in contact with lots of different people, and puts you at bigger risk of getting infected. I’m kind of glad they closed when they did.”
Puerto Rican Erika Vega, a member of ROC United and who has not worked in the food and catering service that has occupied her since March 12, said that help is going to be needed because many people do not know what their rights are when it comes to applying for unemployment insurance.
Because many restaurants, especially independent ones, rely on the labor of undocumented immigrants who wash dishes, bus tables and cook meals, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is trying to raise $500,000 for an emergency relief fund in part to help them.
Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is providing both direct financial assistance and access to numerous resources. More relief efforts are being added by the day, both large and small.
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, ROC United is accepting donations to support both documented and undocumented restaurant workers who lose their jobs or require financial assistance.
“Since I started working for Olive Garden, Darden Restaurants—our parent company—has never provided me paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave. I also never had health insurance from the company,” said Jim Conway, worker at Olive Garden, said during a March 20 conference call sponsored by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United to show the coronavirus impact on restaurants.
More than 2 million undocumented workers, who do not quality for many state and federal benefits, are among the hardest hit Californians as the economy is battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United offers restaurant workers, both documented and undocumented, in need of financial assistance.
ROC United is organizing petitions and calling efforts to chains like Applebee’s, IHOPand Denny’s for refusing to compensate their shift employees for sick time or lost wages due to virus-containment and mandatory social distancing measures.
According to ROC-United, 55 percent of restaurant workers in the U.S. are employed by national and regional chains. “We know that well over 20 percent of restaurant workers are now unemployed or have seen their hours drastically cut,” said Teo Reyes.
Jim Conway is a part-time employee, working six hours a day, four days a week. He’s the breadwinner in his household. His job ended March 15, without advance notice, when the Olive Garden he worked at ended restaurant dining. “I think we all know this crisis will extend beyond two weeks,” Conway said Friday at a news conference sponsored by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.
ROC United yesterday lamented McDonald’s role in preventing the federal coronavirus paid sick leave law from applying to companies with more than 500 workers. This organization is also opening a fund to help employees.
Teófilo Reyes, director of programs and research for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, pointed out that workers in this industry are reeling on more than one level. “Right now, the fact that restaurants are shutting down, and the fact that the government has limited paid sick leave, means that they’re completely devoid of ways of making a living,” he said.
“I’ve been a restaurant worker all my life and there’s really no other restaurant jobs out there to get,” Jim Conway, a worker at Olive Garden, said in a press conference conducted by ROC United. “I’m just hoping that the unemployment insurance comes through quickly.”
In a conference call set up by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a labor activist group based in New York City, union organizers and out-of-work employees described an increasingly dire situation being faced by low-wage restaurant workers who have lost their jobs or had their hours slashed by closings in the health emergency.
Anthony Advincula, public affairs officer at workers’ advocacy group ROC United, says low-wage workers and people of color are most likely to face a cruel choice: “Staying home and not collecting a paycheck, or going to work even when they’re sick or at risk of being infected.”
Throughout the Delaware Valley, people are finding ways to step up to help idled businesses, neighbors and strangers, and asking for the help they need. ROC United is one of the groups taking donations to help people affected by the coronavirus in the region.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Erika Vega, a member of ROC United, hoped her temp job at a cafeteria would soon become permanent. But instead, the viral outbreak shut down the building where she worked and left her wondering where her next paycheck will come from.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center, which advocates for restaurant workers’ rights, opened its own fund, as did union UNITE HERE, which has seen nearly 80% of its members lose their jobs because of the epidemic.
Kevin Osborn, a member of ROC United who is on furlough from his job as a line cook at Alma, said he’s expecting his last check on Friday to include his paid-time-off balance. After that, he said, he’s praying for unemployment to come through.
Restaurant Opportunities Centers United estimates that roughly 25% of U.S. restaurant workers are covered by some form of sick leave law, leaving matters for the other 75% largely in the hands of restaurant operators.
A slew of programs, grants, and resources—from grassroots efforts to government relief—have begun to take shape” for those let go from bars, restaurants and other hospitality destinations, including the Restaurant Opportunities Center.
Hayden Smith, an affiliate of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, says that while organizations like the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild were able to help fundraise for workers affected by the tornado, the coronavirus pandemic is too widespread for similar efforts.
But emergency measures don’t address the long-term issue, which has ramifications that go far beyond the current outbreak. More than 70% of restaurant workers do not have access to paid sick days, according to Teofilo Reyes of ROC United.
Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC,) an organization that seeks to improve the wages and working conditions of restaurant employees, estimates that 10 states, Washington, D.C., and 35 localities legally require sick leave, meaning approximately only 25% of restaurant workers in the US are covered by some form of sick leave law.
“This thing is running amok,” said Anthony Advincula, who works on national policy issues for the Restaurant Opportunities Center and has been getting calls from restaurant workers across the country who are scared they’ll lose their jobs if they call in sick. “In the service industry, one person can make contact with 200 people every day.”
Two out of three restaurant workers cook, prepare and serve food while sick, according to a nationwide survey of more than 4,000 restaurant workers by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.