On Being An Ally For Workplace Justice

“We tend to treat changes in the economy as if they were like the weather—natural phenomena governed by forces beyond our control. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have chosen to live in a society with high unemployment and with income distribution that is becoming medieval. A tiny percentage of Americans owns most of the wealth. Meanwhile millions of willing and able people are without work. This did not just happen. We created this situation.”
—Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Rev. Peter Morales

We cannot address the myriad of issues underlying the “situation” described by Rev. Morales, but we can be allies to the thousands of restaurant workers who are forced to labor under archaic conditions. Their plight has been described in the book by Saru Jayraman, Behind the Kitchen Door, selected as the UUA Common Read and read by many members of WUU.

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, highlighted in Saru’s book, is working nationally to improve working conditions for restaurant workers. The thrust of their campaign is threefold:

  1. Raise the Federal minimum wage for tipped workers ($2.13) and non-tipped workers ($7.25) to above the poverty level for full time work.
  2. Win paid sick leave so workers are not forced to prepare and serve food while ill, or loose a days pay.
  3. Eliminate occupational segregation, which often limits women, immigrants and people of color to lower-paying positions.

Williamsburg is a tourist destination and restaurant workers are an essential segment of our economy. We, who reside here and consume restaurant meals, have a unique opportunity to affect change in this industry by becoming compassionate consumers. Here is how:

  1. Adopt the UUA Statement of Conscience for Ethical Eating enlarged to strongly support wage justice for restaurant workers.
  2. Talk to restaurant workers when you dine out and engage them in a conversation about labor practices.
  3. Leave a TIP card with restaurant owners and managers reminding them that you care about wages, benefits and promotions for a their workers.
  4. Access the ROC United website http://rocunited.org and join their Welcome Table. Try to patronize those restaurants given gold or silver stars.

Beyond these actions our congregation should become a Center for Workplace Justice in Williamsburg. We could engage in dialogue with leaders of the Williamsburg Area Restaurants Association [WARA]. We could canvass area restaurants on their compliance with the ROC five point rating scheme and prepare our own restaurant guide, sharing our research with ROC. We could discuss these issues with CW and other key restaurant owners and help them improve their workplace standards. We could use our facilities for restaurant workers to meet and learn about ROC United’s work. We could join workers protesting the refusal of Darden Restaurants and others to improve working conditions. As the Center for Workplace Justice we would become allies in Williamsburg for restaurant workers and hotel service staff.

Such a long-range project taken on by the congregation would thrust us into new areas of social action and engagement—by striving for justice and working with people who are outside of our traditional circle. There is a danger, however: we could be changed as we truly learn what it means to be multicultural by working side by side with people from other cultures. What perfect justification to adopt the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity advocated by UUA.

Are we ready to take our Principles into the multicultural community beyond our sanctuary doors?

Wayne Moyer
June 17, 2014