The Mason Missile, July 2, 2018


This is Independence Day-what do we have to celebrate? We have a regime (I won’t call it an “administration”) that separates immigrant children as young as several months from the parents, as a bureaucratic form of punishment for entering this country “illegally” (which is classed as a misdemeanor).

That has never happened before, and this practice inflicts trauma upon these children and their parents-but what to the alpha males ruling our affairs care? They show what kind of big strong men they are by terrorizing people who can’t resist, talking about a “zero tolerance policy,” and have sadistic fun doing it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the Bible, the Apostle Paul letter to the Romans, chapter 13, verses 1-7, (RSV) as an excuse to justify this: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.  For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”

That verse had always been a favorite of slaveholders and authoritarians, using some biblical justification for their domination of their subjects. It would not hold sway except for some true believers of the Leader.

(Were he to go further down the chapter, Sessions would have found verses 8-10 “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”)

This is the kind of thing that conservatives, who have whined about “big government taking control of our children,” have warned us about- but it’s happening to dark-skinned foreigners, so they say nothing. I’m pleased, though, that people have risen up against this; I doubt, though, if it would influence this regime from ending the practice, but hopefully, it would make people on the ground ashamed to implement such policies on behalf of their superiors up the chain. There is also institutional resistance to this evil practice, as several state governors have refused to send their National Guard units to the border for this kind of duty.

There is also publicly confronting the top officials responsible for these policies, such as the crowds shaming Stephen Miller and Kristjen Nielsen-as they ate at MEXICAN RESTAUANTS-and Sarah Huckabee Sanders being asked to leave the little restaurant. Now the conservatives complain that the officials are being oppressed and bullied-any worse than the little kiddies in the detention centers separated from their families, scared out of their minds, feeling lost and abandoned, put through possibly all kinds of abuse, not knowing if they’ll ever see their parents again?  Can’t we look at THAT, Americans, and know the shameful thing going on in our name, and with our tax dollars?

With protests against unjust conditions, there are always complaints about how the protestors behave-“They’re not polite, they’re not civil, they use such bad language!” But what about trump’s line in a rally, “I’d like to punch him in the face”? His instigating violence against protestors by his fans? The incidents of white people calling the police on African-Americans for such crimes as sitting in a Starbuck’s, playing golf, napping in a dorm at Yale, holding a cookout in Oakland, mowing a neighbor’s lawn for a few bucks, selling water for money for tickets to Disneyland?

It’s as if we need permission by our conservative superiors to protest unjust conditions, from which they benefit, and the consequence of which they don’t suffer (so it’s no skin off their asses)-and such permission won’t be forthcoming. No one will give us our rights-we’ll take them. It’s just a way for them to not deal with it-but there are people who deal with it every day, and they won’t take it anymore, and will let everyone know they won’t take it.

Again, let’s discuss “big government“-the boogie of right-wing propaganda for decades, since the New Deal and beyond. This is the scare used when the issue is using the mechanism of government, local, state, or federal, to restrict the ability of corporations to swindle consumers and oppress workers. Added to this is the Labor movement, the institutional gathering of workers for their mutual benefit, to prevent corporate bosses from forcing workers into long hours, in oppressive and unsafe worksites, for merger pay.

With the Janus decision of the Supreme Court-which says workers who don’t want to be in a union do not have to pay the “agency shop” fee, but would still be protected by the union-The ability of unions to protect workers is in trouble. But do we take it lying down? No, we organize, just like our forbearers did a century ago, in the face of company thugs, police and militias, and hostile courts, judges, and governments. We have a history and tradition to draw our strength from.

Indeed, activism abounds throughout the nation against the trump agenda-and NO, I will not show him any respect! Along with the protests against the immigration policies along the border, there are protests by high school kids against the gun violence they witnessed, when they had to see their friends killed by gunmen who had too easy an access to an AR-15, and the #MeToo movement of women who refuse any longer to put up with sexual harassment from rich and powerful men.  The Labor movement can tap into that energy, and once again be the insurgent force our plutocratic masters fear it to be.



Pennsylvania Labor History Society Conference

I have attended a conference of the Pennsylvania Labor History Society (PLHS), taking place in Erie. I’m proud to be a life member of this group dedicated to raising up the history of workers organizing for their rights, the kind of history that has for SOME reason been excluded from our history books. School children need to learn of this kind of history, of working people seeking a better life through banding together.

Today’s discussions included a talk by Doctor Judy Lynch about the forming of worker organizations in the 19th Century, which were treated by the courts and the law as criminal conspiracies. The unions of that time called themselves “benevolent societies”, providing assistance to members during hard times and burial benefits, and trying to show they are not threats to the social order or criminal conspiracies. But, alas, the bosses, with the government behind them, sought to crush any and all efforts by workers to uplift themselves.

All over Pennsylvania, and every state in the Union, there is labor history, and we need to work to dig it up and let the world know of it. Yes, the labor movement is imperfect, it followed the prejudices and conventions of the era, and many sought to make themselves acceptable to the public, like Sam Gompers tried to do with the old AFL. But the trade union movement has been one of America’s greatest social movements, uplifting workers to higher living standards. I urge all people to please support the labor movement, and join a union if you are not already in one, to find protection and empowerment.


Benefit Events for Women Against Abuse

One of the fine groups I have worked with over the years is the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). CLUW has been effective in giving women in the trade union movement a start in getting involved in their unions, making them more effective instruments for social change, and making them more sensitive to the needs of working women.

On Wednesday, October 11, 2017, Philadelphia CLUW will hold a fund-raising benefit for Women Against Abuse, to be held at AFSCME District Council 47, 1606 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, at 5:30 PM. Women against Abuse is Philadelphia’s only shelter for battered women and children staffed by union members, in this case UAW. The shelter only accepts women and children in crisis.

Along with cash donations, you are asked to bring such new items as Muslim head and face coverings for women, women’s clothing, sweat and yoga pants, all sizes of underwear, gift cards (please, no Wal-Mart!), diapers, pull-ups, baby formula, baby carriers, such toiletries as toothpaste and shampoo, tampons and sanitary napkins, water bottles, notebooks, portfolios, blank cards, etc.

For further information, please contact Laura Wentz, President of Philadelphia CLUW, at  (215)588-5026;; or


Labor Issues at Walnut Street Theater

Members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States (IATSE), AFL-CIO, are protesting discriminatory practices by the management of the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia against a disabled employee, and for retaliating against a stage employee for requesting a union representative.

For further information, please contact IATSE Local 8, 2401 S. Swanson Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148; (215)952-2106; on the web,

The High Holy Days

The High Holy Days-Rosh haShona and Yom Kippur-are almost upon us. this is the time when we are called to look at our lives, look at how we behaved in the past year, noted where we dome well as people, and where we need to improve.

this is the time to put our mistakes and errors of the past year behind us, and to forgive ourselves of them, and know we can be better people. To any person I may have offended, I ask your forgiveness; and to all who have offended me, I forgive them.

One practice I have is my Resolutions for Rosh HaShona, like the resolutions I write also for the New Year-and for my birthday and Pesach. Here they are:

I will continue conduct myself with self-live, self-esteem, and self respect. I will not be bound by errors of the past, but continue to improve as a person, to think positively about myself and my life, and challenge negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts.

I will continue such spiritual practices as Torah study, yoga, affirmations, meditation, etc.

I will continue my art and business as a writer, seeking journals, attending writing events, practicing writing, etc. I will continue my activism for my various social and political causes.

I will continue to be loyal to Jewish relation, culture, history, Israel, etc.

The Mason Missile, September 3, 2017

I have celebrated my 60th birthday on August 1st, and I know my best days are ahead of me. I thank everybody for joining me on my life journey.

Charlottesville, Virginia, is, like the rest of the country, a flashpoint for the racial problems and hostilities plaguing our nation; one hundred and fifty years or so after the Civil war, fifty to sixty years after the start of the contemporary Civil rights movement, race is still the great dividing line of the nation. (Class is also a real issue, even though we still don’t talk about it.)
A gathering of neo-fascist groups, called “Unite The Right,” took place in Charlottesville, around the statue of Robert E. Lee, the great Confederate general-he was indeed a great military strategist, as well as the focus of great sentimental historical revision. The neo-fascists marched through Charlottesville, which is from what I hear a lovely university town-the headquarters of the University of Virginia- carrying tiki torches (like Klansmen have done) chanting “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!” like straight out of the Third Reich. Counter-demonstrators challenged them; there was violence, with the deaths of Heather Heyer, a fine progressive activist, and two Virginia State troopers whose helicopter crashed as the monitored the march-Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates; may their memory be a blessing.

The immediate cause for the march was to resist the taking down of various statues of Confederate “heroes,” such as Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. These statues were a form of propaganda, “art” used for a political purpose; they were set up during the time, after the Civil War, when the “Jim Crow” segregation laws were being enacted, and again during the rise of the Civil Rights movement. It was to remind African-Americans so was still in charge.

The rewriting of the Civil War’s history was also part of the propaganda; the war, historically proven to be based on the determination of the seceding states to maintain their slave systems, was now seen as merely a clash of differing ideas about what America was to be like, etc.

The Robert E. Lee myth, that of the kindly Christian gentleman-warrior, who sought to reconcile the nation after the war, was part of this. As a recent article in The Atlantic shows ( , Lee indeed oppose slavery, but only because it was bad for white people; He once wrote, “I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild &melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.”

How did our Commander in Chief handle this situation? First he said there was violence “on many sides,” then his staff urged him to make a real condemnation against racism and bigotry, then he went back to talking about the good people on the white nationalist side. He is either to gutless to stand up to his base (many of the racist marchers in Charlottesville wore his “Make America Great Again” caps), or he is too ignorant of the reality of racism contaminating our nation’s psyche-OR, more than likely, he’s a stone-cold racist himself. His wealth and power don’t bring him and more knowledge or wisdom, even though we are taught to revere the wealthy as geniuses.

What are we to make of trump supporters, people who stick with him right or wrong, sink or swim? He is not a friend of working people, but you hear so much about how working-class white people love him, and who love his bad-ass talk about building the wall and being allowed to beat up dissidents, like he urged them to do in his rallies. Many trump lovers are our friends or relatives whom we love, and we certainly can’t cut them off-trump isn’t worth it.

“Populist” is a word bandied about in the news media, like a kind of shorthand, to describe low-income racist politics. The origins of the word “populist” come from the movement in the US, the Populist Party, which was an alliance of farmers who were oppressed by railroads charging too-high rates for shipping their produce, and banks charging too-high interest on their mortgages. It was a movement of low-income people against the corporations dominating the nation’s politics and government, and it allied with labor unions and the women’s suffrage movement. One of its greatest activists, Thomas Watson of Georgia, spoke of the need for Black and White farmers to unite against the common enemy, but Watson and other Populist Party leaders succumbed to the white supremacist idea, for getting who the real enemy was.

It’s a fight, but we’ve had our fights before-organizing workers for their benefit, women organizing for their right to vote at the minimum, people of color working to have their American dream, LGBT people fighting for their right to love-we have a tradition to fall back on, and we have living elders who can tell their stories and inspire the young ’ins, who will add their chapters to the history of the struggle.

What will I be doing in the fight? On Monday, September 4 I’ll march with other Labor activists in the 30th annual Tri-State Labor day Parade and Family Celebration, where we honor the working people of America-that is, US-our institution the labor unions, and the accomplishment we have made for our class and our nation. We are more than worthy of a party.

On Wednesday the 6th I’ll take part in a meeting of Philly for Change, a group which came out of the presidential campaign of Howard Dean in 2004. This group discusses campaigns around legislative district boundaries (and the problem of “gerrymandering”), environmental and gun laws, and LGBT rights, to name a few.


My Upcoming Events

On Saturday, August 26, I will be at the BBQ party of PhillyCAM, the public access channel for Philadelphia-Comcast channel 66, Verizon channel 29. This will take place in the History Museum Garden, located in the garden space right behind PhillyCAM on 699 Ranstead Street, between Market and Chestnut.  I urge people to support PhillyCAM and thus support grassroots community  media, free from the commercial restrictions of regular media; it’s always from the grassroots that new ideas come that change society. For further information, contact

I will join other trade unionists in the Philadelphia in marching in the 30th Annual Tri-State Labor Day Parade and Family Celebration will take place on Monday, September 4, starting at the Sheet Metal Workers Hall, 1301 S. Columbus Blvd., in Philadelphia. We will assemble at 8:30 AM, have the rally at 9:15, and march to the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing. We the working people deserve this time to celebrate our role in the building of America, and to stand up to those who would take away all that we and all who came before us have struggled for. For more information, call the Philadelphia AFL-CIO at (215)665-9800.


Restaurant Opportunities Center-Philadelphia

Restaurant Opportunities Center Philadelphia (ROC Philly) is the Philadelphia affiliate of Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United), a movement of restaurant workers combining to improve their wages and other working conditions.
Sam Jones, Lead Policy Organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Philadelphia, says, “Restaurant Opportunities Centers United was formed in New York shortly after 9-11 (the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001) and at 9-11 there was a restaurant called Windows On The World, on top of the World Trade Center. Of course, when the planes hit, everyone who was working that day lost their lives. Seventy-two workers perished in that tragedy, and so ROC was formed initially as a support group for the grieving families, and for those workers who were not scheduled for (that) shift that day.”
The owners of the restaurant, said Jones, “opened a new restaurant and then refused to rehire any of those former employees. When they were employed at Windows On The World, it was very progressive; it was union jobs, paying well above standards. The owners then opened a restaurant and scrapped that system in favor of what we would call ‘the low road,’ meaning they were hiring their servers at the ‘tipped minimum wage,’ which is, federally, $2.13 an hour.”
The restaurant workers, said Jones, “began to realize a lot of the issues they were discussing were endemic in the entire restaurant industry. They started bringing in more folks from New York, and eventually, over the course of fourteen to fifteen years, opened ROC affiliates in ten cities across the country.” The Philadelphia branch of ROC organized, said Jones, about four years ago.
One of ROC’s national goals, said Jones, is to eliminate the tipped minimum wage, which, in Pennsylvania, “is $2.83 an hour, and has been frozen at that level for eighteen years. A lot of studies indicate that, because of that low tipped minimum wage, servers are three times more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment, because this is something they feel they have to put up with in order to feed their families. Tipped workers are three to four times more likely to have to depend on subsidies from the federal government, (such as) subsidized insurance, Food Stamps, and other programs, because even including the tip, the average tipped worker is making somewhere under eight dollars an hour.
“The Restaurant Association,” says Jones, “likes to trot out a server in a fine steakhouse or four-star restaurant to say they don’t want any increase in the tipped minimum wage, they’re perfectly capable of making eighty or a hundred-twenty thousand a year. That is actually true for a tiny percentage of workers who work in these steakhouses, and in a city the size of Philadelphia, you’re talking about a handful of restaurants. That would be the four-star or five- star restaurants where the meals are going to run fifty to eighty dollars per meal per person. However, the servers in those restaurants that make that kind of money are predominantly white and predominantly male. “
The typical tipped worker, said Jones, works in what are called “fast casual dining” restaurants, “your IHOPs, your Olive Gardens, your Red Lobsters, and these are the workers who are making barely above minimum wage, with tips included. So our focus is to eliminate the tipped minimum wage, and bring it up to a full minimum wage, so that these workers are able to support themselves and feed their families.“
As for the scope of their organizing, Jones said, “We focus primarily on service restaurants where there is actually a server. We are closely aligned with the Fight For $15 movement with fast food workers, and it is our position that the minimum wage should be $15.00, and that should be the floor for tipped workers as well. So we are closely aligned, but we primarily work with workers in sit-down service restaurants where folks are actually served by a server.
ROC Philly is not a traditional labor union, added Jones: “We generally do not focus on organizing workers in a union sense, unless those workers come to us with a particular grievance, and want to organize inside their restaurant. It’s difficult to organize across a stratum of restaurants, because (a particular restaurant) would have to be organized on an individual basis.
“The ruling with McDonald’s has made that simpler,” added Jones. “There was a ruling that McDonald’s franchisees are not singular owners, but that the McDonald’s corporation controls them, so they can organize on a nationwide or even an international basis. That should apply to restaurants like the Darden Corporation, which is the largest employer of tipped workers in the world.” (Darden is the parent company of Olive Garden, Capitol Grille, Bahama Breeze, and several others.)
“We’re not focused on traditional union organizing per se,” added Jones, “we’re focused on professionalizing an industry and getting rid of the inequities I had previously discussed.” A report published by ROC on the tipped minimum wage, he said, shows “the whole concept of tipping in America comes out of the end of slavery. It actually came out of slavery ending and certain folks not wanting to pay the newly-freed slaves, targeting specifically the restaurant industry and the Pullman (sleeping car) industry. The Pullman car workers were able to organize the first Black union in the United States, and they were able to demand a wage. Tipped workers in the restaurant industry were not as fortunate, because the restaurant industry isn’t one particular industry, or one particular owner, it’s spread out from the mom and pops to the Darden (corporation) type of restaurants, a chain across the entire country. So these workers were never able to organize as a union, therefore they were powerless to fight against the concept of the sub-minimum wage.”
What is ROC’s strategy for eliminating the tipped minimum wage in Pennsylvania? “What we’re doing is a multi-pronged approach,” said Jones, “we are part of the Raise The Wage PA Coalition, and part of the platform for (the coalition) is total elimination of the tipped minimum wage, so we’re working through our partner organizations to achieve that end.” ROC Philly has also worked with the Women’s Law Project in drafting a stand-alone one-wage bill calling for complete elimination of the tipped minimum wage.
“On the legislative end,” added Jones, “we have been working with a number of state senators. Senator Dalyn Leach has a bill for a $15.00 minimum wage, with complete elimination of the tipped minimum wage. Senator Tina Tartaglione introduced a bill for $10.10, with the tipped minimum wage rising to seventy percent. We’re already scheduling meetings with Tartaglione, she’s indicated she’s thinking of moving to $15.00, and she has been talking with us about elimination of the tipped minimum wage. She understands now the strategy of doing that. If she on any other person was to introduce a bill going to seventy or seventy-five percent or what have you, it was our fear that the way the Pennsylvania state legislature works, it would be another ten or twelve years before we have a shot at total elimination of the tipped minimum wage. So we’ve been talking to her office, and also with Representative Patty Kim, about a phase-in of complete elimination of the tipped minimum wage. That’s the way we’re going about that here in Pennsylvania.”
Public Demonstrations have also been a ROC strategy, said Jones adding, “We took a group of tipped workers from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to the office of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, which is a lobbying group that that has so far been chiefly responsible for a lower tipped minimum wage, and we had an action there to demand they rescind their support for a $2.83 tipped minimum wage. So we’re putting pressure on some of the lobby groups that support big business and try to repress the minimum wage.
“We are organizing on a national level,” added Jones, “ROC Pennsylvania has offices here in Philadelphia and in Pittsburgh. It is our long-term strategy to organize many thousands of restaurant workers to achieve this legislative victory. Obviously we’re looking at the federal government and also working in the states where we’re active. We’re looking to build a base of multiple thousands of tipped workers.”
How does ROC plan to build this organization, and how do they handle the turnover in leaders and activists? “As with any organization,” said Jones, “the building process is working with our current members, and to expand our base. We have members come to us for various services, such as our channel program, which is our training program for front-of-the-house (employment) and bartending, and we include a political education piece in our training, so that’s one way we have members come in.
“We have other members,” added Jones, “come in with legal or other issues with restaurants, and they self-organize workers, and then of course we’re meeting workers on a daily basis and educating them about some of these issues, so those are several of the ways we’re increasing membership.
“With turnover,” added Jones, “with any organization, you’re going to have turnover. Our chief issue with turnover is those activist members who come in and eventually leave the restaurant industry altogether. A lot of members have been long-term members over the course of the entire four years we’ve been in existence in Philadelphia, and longer in other areas where ROC offices were open prior to the one here in Philadelphia.”
ROC Philadelphia, said Jones, get financial support from the Ford Foundation, the Sam Fels Foundation, and the Bread and Roses Community Fund; “We rely on charitable foundations locally and on the national level. We’re not particularly affiliated with unions; we work in consort with union as far as the Fight for $15, which is essentially SEIU-funded.”
Calvin Okunoye, the High Road Coordinator for ROC Philly, said that ROC started in Philadelphia in 2011, “from a local organizer and a pastry chef, a woman who worked in the industry for many years. I started a year or two after (the formation).” ROC, said Okunoye, has been part of the coalition in Philadelphia to advocate for paid sick days, and nationally, ROC has started a national employer network, which is our alternative to the National Restaurant Association. The organization is called RAISE, Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards and Employment.”
Jones explains one of ROC’s programs, the “High Road of Profitability:” “We look at the restaurant industry and our role in it as a way to improve the industry. One of the ways we do that is working with restaurant owners who are doing progressive things in support of workers, things like going above and beyond the absolute minimums required by that particular state. These restaurants are doing such things as paying above the tipped minimum wage, (or) if they provide paid sick days for employees, things like fair scheduling, there are a number of different criteria a restaurant can have in order to become a partner.
“What we’re doing,” added Jones, “is creating an alternative to the National Restaurant Association, (which) is principally funded by such corporations as Disney and Darden Corporation, which is the largest employer of tipped workers in the country. Darden is the parent company of Olive Garden, Capitol Grille, and four or five other restaurant (chains). Those major corporations are putting pressure on the National Restaurant Association to keep standards as low as possible, and as harmful to workers as possible.” Restaurants RAISE, said Jones, “is an association of restaurant owners (organized) to counter some of that.”
ROC Philadelphia took part in the movement for paid sick leave for restaurant workers, in coalition with the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), the Women’s Law Project, Community Legal Services, and the Sheller Center at Temple University Law School. In February 12, 2015, Mayor Michael Nutter signed the paid sick leave bill passed by City Council, which stated that companies with ten or more employees must grant their employees one hour of sick time for each forty hours they worked in the City of Philadelphia, up to a maximum of forty hours a year.
Jones said ROC Philadelphia has the “availability” to teach English as a Second Language, which was “a result of ROC United, and that it’s utilized a lot more in Los Angeles than it is here (in Philadelphia). We have the availability to teach English as a Second language principally for our Spanish-speaking members. We have not had a class yet this year, but we’re trying to gather enough students to provide a class this year.
“None of us speaks Spanish well enough,” added Jones, “for us to recruit Spanish members, so that happens almost on a secondary basis where a dual-language speaker will become a member and talk to other Spanish-speaking workers at their particular location.”
ROC Philly also provides such services for its members as classes in fine dining services, bartending, resume writing and job placement; “Know Your Rights” training sessions; leadership development and organizing training; urging restaurant workers to join a restaurant worker policy committee to improve conditions in the industry; legal referrals; and meeting restaurant workers throughout the city.
ROC United published a research paper, “Darden’s Decision,” on the mistreatment of workers in the restaurants of the Darden Corporation; Darden is the parent company of the restaurant chains Bahama Breeze, Capital Grille, Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster. Problems in the Darden restaurants have included wage theft, racial discrimination, low wages, and no paid sick leave; and Darden has actively lobbied to keep wage standards down, hiring a lobbyist from the tobacco industry. The ROC report concludes that there are alternatives the company could use, which would protect the company’s brand, reduce costs in high turnover in employment, and increase productivity.
Darden, the report says, does not allow its employees any paid sick leave, and so they would have to work while sick and infect their coworkers and customers; workers complained of the company threatening to fire them if they took any unpaid sick time. An Olive Garden server in North Carolina had to work while suffering from Hepatitis A, and customers filed a class-action lawsuit and news articles were written on food safety and contagious diseases at Olive Garden.
Darden has paid their employees at the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, and has demoted some of their employees; Darden has also been forced by the Department of Labor to repay $100,000 in back wages and fines for wage and hour violations, and has paid $14 million as settlement for claims of wage theft.
To decrease costs, Darden has decreased wages and increased workloads of its workers, such as assigning servers to work four tables a shift from three; and ordered servers to shares a portion of their tips with bartenders and bussers, whose wages Darden cut by half. Darden has also demoted many of their senior waitstaff to “service assistants.” The increase in workloads on individual workers has created unsafe working conditions; workers have said they cut or burned themselves accidentally due to time pressures, thus threatening their health and the health of customers.
The Darden group has been charged and fines numerous times by the US Department of Labor for wage theft; an Olive Garden and a Red Lobster in Texas ordered their workers to clock in when customers were seated, not at the start of their shift, thus reducing the time they were paid for. Workers in Capital Grilles in went to federal court in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Maryland and Miami complaining of wage violations. Over 20,000 workers in Red Lobsters and Oliver Gardens in California filed a class action lawsuit stating the company would not allow them breaks, violating of that state’s labor law.
Darden has been accused of racial discrimination; employees have complained of being denied promotions and other advancement, and employees of color complained of being hired when the restaurant opened, then discharged after the restaurant was established. Non-white workers have charged Darden with denying them opportunities of advancement and of actively discriminating against them. A lawsuit of 37 Black employees, filed in 2008, of a Bahama Breeze restaurant in Ohio charged that managers harassed them with racial slurs.
Darden has been highly profitable, and has paid its CEO $8.5 million in 2011; but the company has lobbied against increase in the minimum wage and for tax breaks, and has hired a lobbyist for the tobacco industry to handle its government relations.
ROC United’s report on Darden offers to the company a “high road” alternative policy towards its employees, such as paying workers a living wage; with this living wage, the report concludes, Darden employees would feel appreciated by the company, and therefore reduces turnover costs.
“Behind The Kitchen Door: the Hidden reality of Philadelphia’s Thriving Restaurant Industry” is the title of a report published by ROC Philadelphia and ROC United, in collaboration with the Keystone Research Center. The report shows that in Philadelphia’s restaurant industry, racial discrimination exists; workers of color are relegated to lower-paying positions, while white employees work in the better-paid positions. Many workers who are sick still feel they have to work or lose their jobs, or else they have no sick time; therefore they expose their coworkers and customers to sickness.
The report urged the Philadelphia restaurant industry to take the ‘high road” and pay its employees high livable wages and provide sick leave, ensure adequate levels of staffing, and provide equal opportunities for advancement; and from that, turnover costs would be lowered, due to not having to keep training new workers and older workers would remain.
On Wednesday, October 26, 2016, ROC Philly joined with other activist groups, such as the Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP), Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER, a coalition of religious congregations), for a demonstration in front of the Interstate Blood Bank on North Broad Street.
Sam Jones explained the demonstration: “This is,” he said, “part of our effort in conjunction with our association with the Raise The Wage PA Coalition. We’re a coalition partner, and this is a demonstration to raise the minimum wage in Pennsylvania to at least $15.00 an hour over time, and of course eliminating the tipped minimum wage, which is $2.83 an hour.” The reason the Interstate Blood Bank was selected as a site for the demonstration, said Jones, was, “That was a coalition decision, and that’s to highlight the fact that there are working people who sometimes have to sell blood in order to pay their bills if they’re making just the minimum wage.”
At the demonstration was Valerie Erwin, a former restaurant owner: “For twelve years, I was a restauranteur in Philadelphia,” she said. “Before that I was a cook and a chef, where you sometimes get minimum wage, but at least a wage that you can count on. For front-of-the-house workers, the tipped minimum wage is $2.83 cents an hour, and I felt a lot of outrage about that in different ways, as a worker and as an owner. As a worker, if you were in a high-end restaurant, servers often out-earn the cooks by a lot of money, but not necessarily doing more work because they got paid based on the size of the check. But for most tipped workers, they don’t work in high-end restaurants, they make $2.83, and whatever else they make is completely arbitrary, and they can’t count on it from week to week.
“At ROC” added Erwin, “we not only want to raise the basic minimum wage to a living wage that gives value for the labor that people in restaurants provide, but also to eliminate the tipped minimum wage, so that servers know what they’re going to make, so that they are paid by their employers and not by the people they serve, so that what they make is not arbitrary. As an owner who came from the back of the house, I desperately wanted to get rid of the tipping system, but there was no way for me to do that as a small restaurant and have competitive prices. I think there are a lot of restaurateurs who would like to get rid of tipping, if everybody got rid of tipping, and if they didn’t have to be an outlier. So that’s why we’re asking the legislators to raise the minimum wage , and to get rid of the sub-par tipped minimum wage.”
Erwin discussed her restaurant, which, she said, “I had for twelve years in Philadelphia that served food from the Low Country, which is the coast and islands off South Carolina and Georgia, called Geechee Girl Rice Café. Geechees are the descendants of the enslaved Africans who lived in that area.” In her experience running the restaurant, she said, “I was always in a position where I wished I could pay my employees more, but also I would tell people that everybody who worked for me, without exception, made more money than I made. I paid people as much as I could, but not as much as what I would have liked to.
“Part of the problem,” added Erwin, “is that we are so used to cheap food in this country, and if you’re a small business it’s very hard to pay really comfortable wages without having to raise your prices to a point that people are probably not willing to pay for them. I think it more reflects the true cost of food.”
Erwin said that she has been active in ROC Philly for about a year and a half, “after I closed my restaurant,” she said, “because I was interested in social justice in the hospitality industry, and I knew (ROC) was doing it. I had helped some people who had helped me map out the next steps of my life, and Yvonne Deutsch, who was the dean of the culinary program at Drexel, told me about ROC, and I didn’t know then that ROC had a branch in Philadelphia. So that was right after I closed, that was in 2015.”
Large chains of restaurants, like the Darden group, have been driving down the tipped minimum wage; “I think,” said Erwin, “they managed to keep down the wages of all workers.” In restaurants, she added, “workers in the kitchen don’t make very much money either. The National Restaurant Association is one of the big lobbyists that keeps (the tipped wage) where it is.” The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Hotel Association, she added, has “a vested interest in keeping the tipped wage below the minimum wage.” Erwin worked in the kitchens of fine dining restaurants in New York, she added, and “people on the floor made a lot more money than people in the kitchen, because they take a tip based on how much they sell, and many prices are high. I didn’t like it on that basis that those people got paid more than the people I worked with got paid, and I didn’t like it on a philosophical basis, just as your employer is responsible for unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation, they should be responsible for your wage. It’s very hard as one small independent restauranteur to fight that system, because it’s hard to bring the public along with you. There’s an almost insurmountable psychological barrier to raising your prices twenty-five per cent.”
The way to raise the minimum wage for restaurant workers, Erwin added, would be “to try to put pressure on the legislature, which you do by direct action. There are a couple of ways that pressure can be put on legislators. Advocacy groups like ROC lobby representatives to get alliances for ROC’s issues like One Fair Wage and raising the minimum wage. Individuals can also contact their local lawmakers. Letters, emails and especially phone calls to state and federal representatives can do a lot to sway their votes.”
Saru Jayaraman, Co-founder and Co-Director of restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United) wrote a book about the movement, Forked 2016, New York, Oxford University Press). Jayaraman writes of the more than eleven million Americans working in the restaurant industry, saying, “Unfortunately, the people who prepare, cook, and serve our food are also twice as likely as other Americans to be on food stamps. The restaurant industry-the industry that feeds us!-is also starving its workforce, both economically and as a civil society that values its citizens.”
But Jayaraman writes of restaurants that take the “high road” of fair treatment of their employees. A study in 2014 conducted by Cornell University, in partnership with ROC, reports that employers could cuts the costs resulting from employee turnover in half by better wages and working conditions; and the restaurant industry has among the highest rates of employee turnover.
Jayaraman writes of the tour for her 2013 book Behind The Kitchen Door, about working conditions in the restaurant industry. During the tour, women would speak to her about such problems they faced in their restaurant jobs, such as sexual harassment; and the idea would come up of a guide of restaurants that pay their workers fairly and have decent working conditions. The ROC Diners’ Guide to Ethical Eating came out for New York in 2007; it now rates 100 of the most popular restaurant chains, and also has a smartphone app. Forked, says Jayaraman, moves forward the process of the guide began of rating restaurant chains on their wages, sick leave policies, and other working conditions.
“The restaurant industry,” says Jayaraman “is one of the only sectors to grow amid the economic crisis of the last decade.” But, she adds, “it is also the absolute lowest-paying employer in the United States.” Annual statistics of wages from the US Department of Labor, says Jayaraman, show that the restaurant industry “wins the prize for having the lowest-paying occupations in the United States.” These wage policies, says Jayaraman, come out of the lobbying efforts of the National Restaurant Association (“the other NRA”), which is dominated by the restaurant chains in the Fortune 500 and has been named “among Congress’s most powerful lobbying groups by Fortune Magazine.” As a result of The Other NRA’s lobbying, Jayaraman writes, “the median hourly wage for all restaurant workers in the United States is a paltry $9.20.”
Tipping servers, says Jayaraman, comes from the grand Tudor homes in England, “where visiting guests were expected to leave gratuities for servants.” This custom, says Jayaraman, spread throughout Europe and was picked up by American travelers. An American anti-tipping movement formed among labor and consumer activists: “it was seen,” says Jayaraman, “as giving certain employers the unfair justification that they should be able to pay their workers little or nothing because they were receiving tips.”
But American railroad and hospitality companies (Jayaraman cites specifically the Pullman company) fought to keep the tipping system in place. “In the late 1800s,” she says, “they argued that they should not have to pay wages to their employees-many of whom were former African-American slaves hired to serve newly industrialized white factory workers in restaurants and traveling Americans on trains-because these workers were earning tips. “ These industries, she writes, wanted “to be able to hire workers and not pay them a wage at all, arguing that their income could come entirely from customers tips,” and this “arose in part from (the) nation’s history of subjugation based on race.”
In Europe, writes Jayaraman, they began to move away from tipping; several Italian hoteliers charged ten to fifteen percent more in lieu of tipping, guests were warned not to tip, and workers receiving gratuities were fired. “In Italy and most of Europe,” she writes, “restaurant workers are considered professionals. There are schools of service throughout Europe that train individuals in the art and skill of hospitality.” It would be an affront, says Jayaraman, to offer a tip to a restaurant worker, just as it would be to tip a doctor or a lawyer.
But in the United States, tipping was enshrined in custom and law. When Congress passed the first minimum wage law as part of the New Deal, the law said that the wage could be obtained through wages directly from the employer or tips from customers, so tipped workers were not guaranteed a base wage from their employers. By 1980, the federal tipped minimum wage was sixty per cent of the overall minimum wage.
In 1996, the National Restaurants Association (“the other NRA”), under the leadership of Harmen Cain, CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and 2012 presidential candidate, urged that the minimum wage for tipped workers be frozen “forevermore,” says Jayaraman, even as the minimum wage rose for all other workers. “Thus,” writes Jayaraman, “the federal minimum wage for tipped works was frozen at $2.13 an hour, and has not increased for more than two decades to the current day.”
Jayaraman pints out the states that demand that restaurants pay their workers the full minimum wage- California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Alaska, and Minnesota. ROC’s research, says Jayaraman, shows that these states “fare better than the other forty-three on almost every measure the restaurant industry cares about: overall restaurant sales per capita, job growth in the restaurant industry, job growth among tipped workers, and even rates of tipping higher in these seven states.” This is in spite of the restaurant Association’s assertion, says Jayaraman, that if tipped workers “received the full minimum wage from their own employer, customers would stop tipping them.”
But, says Jayaraman, the Restaurant Association has convinced legislators that tipped workers “receive a more than sufficient income through their tips.” 66 percent of the “almost six million tipped workers in America are women,” and a large majority of them work in the casual restaurants like Olive Garden and IHOP. Women in these situations, says Jayaraman, “suffer three times the poverty rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce and use food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce.”
Thus, these women working full time still need public assistance; research by ROC has shown that “half of all full-service restaurant workers use public assistance, for a total of $9.5 billion annually, and that the average Olive Garden, for example, costs the taxpayer nearly $200,000 annually in public assistance for workers.”
Sexual harassment is another problem women workers in the restaurant industry face, says Jayaraman. “Dependent on tips,” she writes, “workers must tolerate whatever a customer might do-treatment, touching, and other behavior-to receive their income from that customer rather than form their employer.” Eighty per cent of restaurant workers, says Jayaraman, experienced sexual harassment in their workplace; and in states that have the $2.15 tipped minimum wage, women experienced twice the rate of sexual harassment from customers as they did in states that paid the same minimum wage to tipped and non-tipped workers. Also, adds Jayaraman, women working in states with the tipped minimum wage were ordered by their employers to objectify themselves, by dressing “sexier,” showing more cleavage, or wearing tighter clothing.
ROC has established a rating system, says Jayaraman, in conjunction with the University of North Carolina, University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Georgia, for restaurants on their wages for tipped and non-tipped workers, paid sick leave policies, and promotions and raises in the company. Jayaraman points out that most of the restaurants that received high marks in this rating system are not national chains, and the restaurants receiving low marks are in chains (the exceptions are Chipotle and In-N-Out Burger).
In its work, ROC Philadelphia, as well as ROC United, have combined the tactics of being a resource for restaurant workers, academic-level research into the restaurant industry, legislative lobbying, networking with like-minded groups, public demonstrations, strategic focus on the biggest firms in the industry (like the Darden group) and helping empower restaurant workers, giving them the confidence in their own strength.

Back From UMass

I’m back from another ten days of classes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, working towards my Master’s in Labor Studies-my final semester, of learning the real forces arrayed against working and other low-income people, the laws stacked against their coming together for their protection, the corporate and political forces lined up to take away what’s left of our rights as workers, and of our ability to resist their oppressing us.

I urge all Labor activists and others involved in the movement to look into studying in this program; you’ll be educated by professors who combine theory with activism, and be joined by other dedicated Labor activists. The Labor Center’s website is .

More Classwork at UMass

In a couple of days, I shall return to the campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst for more classwork at their labor Center, where we take such classes as Labor Law, Labor History, Labor and the Economy, Labor Research, Immigration, and Contract Negotiation. This is all accredited, graduate-level work leading to a Master’s degree. I have always believed in education as a form of empowerment; if a person knows the real history and facts, that person cannot be so easily manipulated. It also carries a responsibility-if you know something touted in the media or in politics is a lie, you MUST speak out against it.

If you would like to learn more about this program, contact UMass at