Staff

Alba Escobar

Organizer – ROC Minnesota

Allen Lee

CHOW Lead Organizer/Case Manager – ROC Michigan

Allen came to ROC from Goodwill Industries, where he specialized in workforce development. In 2017 he joined ROC-MI to coordinate Restore Detroit, a skills training program for returning citizens and survivors of domestic violence. He managed the daily operations of the training classes and maintained compliance with major stakeholders. In 2019 Allen’s focus shifted to coordinating ROC-MI’s CHOW (Colors Hospitality Opportunity for Workers) Institute, which provides free 8-week industry specific classes, building the ladder of success for restaurant workers. Allen’s dedication to justice for restaurant workers comes from his lived experience of witnessing his mother’s struggle with wage and tip theft as a hospitality worker.

Ami Awad

Development Director

Ami has worked in the nonprofit sector for nearly two decades, holding various program and administrative positions focused on workforce development, housing, advocacy, and community wellness. She is deeply passionate about building strategic relationships to address wealth disparities, social injustices, and meaningful systems change. Prior to assuming her role with ROC, Ami served as a development consultant for progressive organizations across the country. She earned her BA from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and currently works out of ROC’s NYC office.

Andrea Kszystyniak

Development Associate

Andrea Kszystyniak (they / them) has been an organizer in one capacity or another for most of their life, primarily working at the intersections of prison abolition, labor and queer / trans movements. They approach their role in development and fundraising as a political tool to redistribute resources in hope of building a world where everyone has what they need. They bring their experience as a newspaper reporter, restaurant worker, community organizer, artist and non-profit employee to their work at ROC. In their spare time, they watch horror / action movies, drink iced lattes, ride bikes and read too many books. They live in Chicago with their cat, Scout.

Anthony Advincula

Communications Director

Anthony joined ROC United in December 2018. The youngest son of a seamstress from the Philippines, he has focused on the dignity of work and the rights of workers to address economic reforms, job protections, and restructure national immigration policy.

Anthony attended Harvard University (Liberal Arts, advanced narrative nonfiction) in 2005, and Columbia University, where he was awarded a Charles H. Revson Fellowship, and received his master’s degree in public administration (MPA, social and urban policy) and journalism, in 2009.

Prior to ROC, Anthony was a journalist for 15 years, focusing on labor, government and politics, immigration, and race relations. He was a correspondent for The Associated Press, The Jersey Journal and New America Media, and a recipient of various journalism fellowships, including the New York Times Foreign Press Fellowship, American/German Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Fellowship and USC National Health Journalism Fellowship.

Brandon Arnold

Lead Organizer – ROC New Orleans

Brandon Arnold began his community organizing career with Chicago Area Project. His professional career has taken a full circle. However, now he can add the experience of teacher, counselor and police officer. Brandon is also delighted to bring that experience to NOLA, a city he has always loved. With ROC United, he has pledged to give total devotion and hard work to the local community of restaurant workers (the backbone Of NOLA). He is proud to serve New Orleans.

Carlos Ramos

Organizer – ROC Minnesota

Chris White

National RAISE Director / ROC Michigan Director

Colleen Koperek

National Digital Organizer

A former pastry chef, line cook and culinary educator, Colleen started at ROC in 2023. She enjoys that her life experience as a cook, writer and organizer comes together to help workers realize their collective power. She believes that access to information is paramount to building worker power, and uses her skills as a digital organizer to reach restaurant workers nationwide. Outside of work she likes riding bikes, listening to music and trying new foods

Cynthia Gomez

Deputy Director of Membership Growth

Cynthia worked as a waitress in the restaurant industry until 2011 when she went from a rank-and-file janitor, a steward, and an Executive Board Member before finally coming on staff as an Organizer. She led the janitorial division and became an Organizer Director for Janitorial, Security Officers, Window Cleaners, Block by Block, Retail Janitors, Minnetonka Moccasins divisions of SEIU Local 26 Including a one day of strike for janitors. 

In April 2015, she received training in Brazil with MST (Landless workers movement) at the Florestan Fernandez National School in which she obtained the knowledge of organizing and trained through popular education and learned their style of organization from the base. Having 9 years of professional experience, she has organized workers and developed successful leaders. She is here to fight for economic, racial, and gender equality and eliminating workplace harassment. She is bringing her experience and knowledge to serve the working- class families.

Guadalupe Marin

Organizer – ROC Chicago

Guadalupe was born in Mexico, then brought to Chicago, as a teenager. She is a bilingual Organizer for ROC-Chicago. Guadalupe looks forward to creating strong relationships with the organizations in the Chicagoland area. She has pledged to be that connection between restaurant workers and their resources. During her free time, Guadalupe enjoys spending time with her two daughters her 6 grandchildren, and her dog Kobe and cat MJ.

Jen Johnson

Director of Institutional Giving

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jen Johnson began her career in philanthropy in 2015 with an entry-level fundraising position at Goodwill Southern California. Within 3 years, she was the assistant director of Development, charged with spearheading Goodwill SoCal’s corporate philanthropy program. Jen joined ROC United in 2020 as the director of Institutional Giving where she leads fundraising efforts for the 6 of its 9 local chapters. A former server with 11 years of restaurant experience, Jen is passionate about eliminating racism and sexism within the restaurant industry. She lives in Los Angeles and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from Cal State Northridge.

Jessie Harmon

National Digital Organizer

For twelve years Jessie worked in the service industry between their native Atlanta and Los Angeles as a professional bartender who after enduring the dichotomy between the good and unfortunate sides of restaurant culture, they became a worker about actions and solutions in order to build a new, constructive way forward for service industry professionals. Jessie has a strong passion for teaching and working with people after years behind the bar and began teaching at the CHOW Bar Academy as well as political coffee breaks and leadership development to bring workers together through positive, forward thinking. Their experience within the industry pushed anger into action to fight for better working wages, dignity, education and quality of life for all working class people.

Outside of organizing work, Jessie positively enjoys live music, tacos, Parks & Rec, shaken daiquiris, Joshua Tree, meeting new people, traveling, social justice, comedy shows and spending time with their dog Kevin.

Jordan Romanus

Deputy Director of Organizing

Jordan has been with ROC United since July 2013. He has been grateful for the privilege of managing a great team of digital organizers at ROC. Together, he and his team members have created and utilized organizing tech tools to build worker power.

Jordan finds his work at ROC vital; he wants to make sure restaurant workers are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

Prior to ROC, he worked at many different organizing initiatives and random jobs, primarily in the Appalachian region.

Laura MacIntyre

Organizer – ROC Michigan

Leslie Escobosa

Human Resources Director

Leslie started working as a part-time office manager in November 2008, where she had the opportunity to meet many restaurant workers facing injustice in the restaurant industry. That experience inspired her to help workers improve their skills, including résumé building, in order to find the right employment and be successful in their chosen career.

Leslie was promoted to Career Coach, leading ROC United’s CHOW Institute’s training program. Presently, she is the Human Resources Director at ROC United.

In the spring of 2020, Leslie received an Associate of Arts in Human Services from Bronx Community College and a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Baruch College in New York City.

Luis Cortes

Organizer – ROC New York

Luis Cortes is a bilingual organizer for ROC NY. He is working on organizing restaurant workers’ voices for the Empire State Child Care Campaign. Prior to ROC-NY, he worked organizing day laborers in NYC and fast food workers in the Fight for 15 campaign in Albany, NY. His first job in NYC ten years ago was in the restaurant industry. Luis holds a BA in Public Administration from the Universidad de Chile.

Manuel Villanueva

Western Regional Director

Manuel is the Regional Director of ROC’s chapters on the western half of the country. He leads comprehensive organizing campaigns to help workers win respect and dignity at their restaurants, including training and education for worker leaders, media work in English and Spanish, direct actions, and legal strategy. He has community organizing experience as a peer educator for LGBTQ Organizations, developing leaders in the Latino LGBTQ community in Long Beach, Palm Springs, and Los Angeles, and as a member organizer for ROC-LA prior to joining the staff team. He also has over 10 years of experience in the restaurant industry. 

Maria Vazquez

Organizer – ROC Los Angeles

Maria Vazquez is an integral part of our team, serving as our dedicated Outreach Specialist and Organizer. With a long history of volunteerism within our chapter, Maria embodies the spirit of community involvement. Beyond her commitments with us, she is deeply engaged in church and community events, fostering connections and support networks that uplift those around her. Maria finds immense joy in spending time with her grandsons, sons, and daughters, cherishing each moment with her family.

Maria’s values of empathy, love, kindness, and humbleness shine through in all aspects of her work. Inspired by the resilience and hard work of immigrant families, she is passionate about promoting awareness of their rights and advocating for a more equitable workplace. Maria is committed to addressing power imbalances, advocating for an affordable cost of living, and striving for a healthy work-life balance for all. Her dedication to serving the community is fueled by her love and compassion, making her an invaluable asset to our organization and beyond.

Marie L. Wiggins

National Director of Workforce Development and Special Projects

Marie is the creator of COLORS Hospitality Opportunities for Workers, known as the CHOW Institute, a ROC United program that provides advanced professional training in both front- and back-of-the-house restaurant skills at no cost to either employers or employees. Marie has held multiple roles in the organization over the past 15 years — from being a member, a worker owner at original COLORS Restaurant, training coordinator, serving as ROC-NY Director, National Member Benefits and Resource Coordinator, Deputy of HR, Finance and Operations.

In her previous professional career that she had for 12 years with the New York City Board of Education, Marie was active in three unions: Communication Workers Association, International Brotherhood of Teamsters – Local 237, and District Council 37. She also spent 10 years with Corporate America as a cash manager.

Mei Chen

Development Associate

Born in Chinatown, New York, Mei was raised in the food service industry by immigrant parents who owned and operated a Chinese restaurant in South Jersey for over 15 years. Mei attended Yale University, where she took on a number of leadership roles in research and volunteer organizations and received a Bachelor of Science in psychology. A member of the ROC development team since 2023, Mei is incredibly passionate about racial justice, immigrant rights, and labor rights.

Megatron Caswell

Organizer – ROC Minnesota

Nadira Persid

Bookkeeper

Nadira first got involved with ROC as a contractor in March 2019, and became a full time staff November of 2023. She was born in Guyana and moved to Barbados at age 14. Nadira worked was in marketing for a while and then joined the optical world where she spent 23 years in that service working in the optical laboratory, then as an dispensing assistant. Nadira then moved to the US for something different, and worked in the restaurant business for 2 years.

Nohemi Woods

Organizer – ROC Los Angeles

Nohemi is our chow coordinator for ROC LA. She books the instructor, venue, brands and students for each class. She started out as a volunteer with ROC and is now coordinating the program herself. Nohemi has worked back of the house and front of the house for the past decade, from prepping, bar backing, serving, bartending to management, allowing her to understand each role to full depth. She also has a background in community organizing with a focus on migrants rights, which goes hand in hand with labor rights in hospitality. 

Olivia Urbina Tobar

Organizer – ROC Los Angeles

Olivia Tobar is a passionate Outreach Specialist and Organizer whose dedication extends beyond the confines of her role. Alongside her professional pursuits, Olivia finds solace and joy in spending quality time with her family, often bonding over shared interests like watching movies together. During the height of the pandemic, Olivia emerged as a beacon of support, engaging in critical community outreach efforts in the heart of Los Angeles. She tirelessly provided essential information about COVID-19 to restaurant workers, demonstrating her commitment to the well-being of her community during times of crisis.

At the core of Olivia’s work are values of gratitude, kindness, sincerity, and solidarity. Her inspiration stems from her family, whose resilience and determination fuel her passion for helping others, particularly within the immigrant community. Olivia is a staunch advocate for accessible healthcare, immigration reform, and workers’ rights, tirelessly working to create a better future for all. Her unwavering dedication to these causes reflects her belief in the power of collective action and compassion, making her an invaluable asset to any endeavor she undertakes.

Rev. Prabhu Sigamani

Director – ROC New York

Prabhu joined ROC-NY in Jan 2010 as a case manager and, in 2014, transitioned to do policy work. In 2020 he became the director of the chapter; he comes with ten years of experience. Prabhu graduated BA Cum Laude from NYACK College, majoring in Theology. He continued his education at New York Theological Seminary and earned his Masters in Divinity. Prabhu received a certificate in Project Management from Cornell University.  And visions to make service and knowledge accessible to restaurant workers will lead to industry transformation by the members impacted by systemic greed and designed suppression. 

As an immigrant who worked his way up, he understands the struggles of people. Prabhu enjoys working with members and colleagues to help them identify their potential to outrival. Social change is a collaborative work that can be done only by mutual support and encouragement.

Prabhu is also an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Serves on  committee member on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations New York Conference of UCC. He serves on the Board of Directors for Worker Justice Project, a non-profit that works to improve day labors’ lives from various racial backgrounds.

He enjoys woodcarving during his free time and is excited to take a new hobby in clay sculpting. 

Sadia Nowshin

Senior Accountant

Sadia joined ROC United in January 2023. She came to USA as an immigrant in 2004 and she’s been living in New York since 2004. Sadia attended Hunter College for her Bachelor degree in Accounting and earned Master’s in Business Management from Saint Francis College.

Prior to ROC Sadia was working for another non-profit organization called The Brotherhood & Sister Sol. Sadia have experience in several different aspects of accounting such as auditing, general accounting and budget Analyzing. Sadia also have experience working at some of the big companies like PWC and Young & Rubicam.

Samuel Jones

Deputy Director of Strategic Partnerships

I have been part of the ROC staff for almost 8 years and I am the Director of ROC Pennsylvania. During my time at ROC we have been able to spearhead efforts to pass Paid Sick Days legislation in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Additionally, we have passed Wage Theft legislation and Fair Work Week legislation in Philadelphia and through a ballot initiative we established a permanent Office of Labor Law Enforcement to protect Philadelphia workers. Our members have participated in panels at the Netroots Convention in Philadelphia and we were invited to a Farm Aid concert outside of Pittsburgh where members established an informational booth to share news of ROC. I am probably most excited about our effort to connect reporters with a restaurant worker in Philadelphia who was featured in lengthy Time Magazine article highlighting the need for One Fair Wage and exposing sexual harassment and other deplorable conditions in the restaurant industry.

Sheli E. Stein

Lead Organizer – ROC Minnesota

Sheli E. Stein is the Lead Organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of MN (ROC-MN). They have spent 15 years as a worker in the food-service industry in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Born and raised in Minneapolis, they have been organizing with youth and food-service workers for the past 6 years. They are a white, jewish, queer person who enjoys amateur car mechanics, cooking, building power and powerfully fighting for the future that we deserve.

Tareq Saghie

 Organizer – ROC New York

Tareq Saghie is an organizer and case manager who comes to ROC with several years of experience as a server, runner, bar back, and busser at various restaurants. He transitioned to working for ROC after witnessing the widespread exploitation of labor at New York City restaurants, a reality he wants to change both to provide the workers with a more dignified life and to maintain an industry that brings so many people joy.

 

In addition to his experience in restaurants, Tareq worked as a case manager and program coordinator at shelters opened inside of hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting at shelters for people with COVID-19 and moving to a program for people released early from incarceration. In the former role, Tareq organized a team of nurses to do vaccine outreach, bringing education and the vaccines themselves to people across the city at a time when accessibility was low. Tareq is excited to engage members across the 5 boroughs and help get pro-worker legislation passed, a task he will do while completing an MA at CUNY Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

Dr. Teófilo Reyes

President & CEO

Teófilo joined ROC United in September of 2011, while completing a doctorate in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago. Previously, Teófilo served as co-director at Labor Notes, director of Transnationals Information Exchange in North America, helped found the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty, and was a community organizer with the United Farm Workers.

Most recently, he was appointed as a lecturer and visiting scholar at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley. At the University of Chicago, he was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and was appointed as a Fellow at the Institute for Mind and Biology.

He earned a dual undergraduate degree in Economics and Russian from the University of Michigan. Teófilo’s first job was at McDonald’s.