Organizing a Union in the Disorganized World of Small Restaurants
During the pandemic, catering workers “were interested in organizing in ways they weren’t before,” said Sheigh Freeberg, secretary and treasurer of Unite Here Local 17.
What is separate from many of these fledgling initiatives, Freeberg added, is that they do not attack companies worth millions of dollars. Most independent restaurants operate with low profit margins. For these workers, “it’s about respect at work or being able to have your schedule ahead,” he said. “Stuff that doesn’t cost money.”
Yet many recent organizational efforts have stalled or failed.
After working at N7, a French bistro in New Orleans, for more than three years, Luna Vicini was fired last October from her room manager position, with a note stating that the company needed help. a manager who prioritizes profitability. She believes it was because she had organized workers around concerns about pay, transparency and safety protocols. (The company did not respond to requests for comment.)
After Ms. Vicini left, she said, nine employees went on strike; the restaurant closed for several days before owners Aaron Walker and Yuki Yamaguchi reopened with mostly new staff. Ms Vicini hoped to get her job back and help organize N7, but the strike fizzled out as some employees returned to work or took jobs elsewhere.
“I think people left the strike because they couldn’t see what it would be like if it worked,” said Vicini, 31. “And they could see what it would be like if it didn’t work. “
At American Beauty, a steakhouse in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, six waiters and two former employees picketed the restaurant last March after owners reduced the percentage of the tip reserve allotted to waiters and other employees at American Beauty. the room. The restaurant said the move was intended to give kitchen staff a bigger share of that pool; picketers said the company should simply increase the wages of kitchen workers.
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