Restaurant Opportunities Center

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) is a not-for-profit organization and worker center with affiliates in a number of cities across the United States. Its mission is to improve wages and working conditions for the nation's low wage restaurant workforce. Its tactics and strategy have drawn fire from business groups and restaurant industry lobbyists.[1][2]

Restaurant Opportunities Center
Jessica Wynter Martin - RaiseTheWage, 2016.jpg
21st April 2016 - Washington, D.C. - U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez participates in a press conference with congressional leaders to discuss the importance of raising the federal minimum wage and urging Congress to pass the Murray-Scott Raise the Wage legislation. Jessica Wynter Martin, Worker (Restaurant Opportunities Center United)
FounderSaru Jayaraman, Fekkak Mamdouh
PurposeTo improve wages and working conditions for the nation's low wage restaurant workforce
United States
Membership (2013)

As of 2013, ROC claimed to represent 13,000 restaurant workers, 100 employers and 2,000 consumer members in 32 cities across the United States.[3]


The group was founded with funding from multiple foundations with a stated goal to “organize all unorganized restaurant workers in New York City.”[4] ROC-NY was founded by immigration attorney Saru Jayaraman and Windows on the World waiter Fekkak Mamdouh and other restaurant workers who survived the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001[4] to provide support for the displaced workers, including undocumented immigrants. These workers had worked in restaurants in the WTC, including in the Windows on the World restaurant located on its top floors.[5][6]

Jayaraman is author of Behind the Kitchen Door (2013), a book that follows the lives of restaurant workers in eight American cities, seeking to call attention to their low wages, along with unfair labor practices, exploitation, and unsanitary kitchen practices.[7]

Mamdouh is the co-author, with Rinku Sen, of The Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Era of Global Immigration (2008), a book that argues for a free flow of international labor to match globalization’s free flow of capital.[8]

The March 2013 announcement by Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, that organized labor would work more closely groups focusing on aid immigrant workers is one factor in the decision by business groups to target ROC.[2]

ROC supports the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.[9]

ROC is a target of the National Restaurant Association and allied lobbyists like Richard Berman.[10]


ROC conducts labor campaigns to encourage restaurant owners to increase wages and change working conditions for employees.[11] Also, ROC provides free training in all areas of restaurant work for restaurant workers and workers seeking employment.[12]

In early 2012, ROC launched its "Dignity at Darden" campaign, targeting what it alleged to be discrimination and wage theft by Darden Restaurants, which owns and operates such chains as Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille.[13][14] In the Darden campaign, ROC charged that in addition to paying the lowest wages possible to Darden employees (as low as $2.13 per hour), not providing health insurance or paid sick days for a workforce of 200,000 people, the company was also an opponent of paid sick day legislation providing for a low-wage worker to stay at home and recover instead of going to work sick, which led to public exposure to hepatitis A and other medical threats.[15]

ROC organizers appeared at Darden's 2012 annual shareholder's meeting to advance their complaints.[16]

ROC dropped the lawsuit in mid-2012.[17]

In January 2014, in an unrelated lawsuit, 20,000 former and current Darden workers joined a federal lawsuit alleging that the company underpaid them.[18]


The organization also undertakes research on the state of the food industry with a special focus on issues that affect food workers. ROC's more than 15 published reports have been widely cited and covered by media. ROC says that in its “Diners’ Guide” it promotes workplace "best practices" that serve as models for employers to facilitate business profitability while treating employees fairly.[19] The methodology of the report states that when rating national chains that did not respond at the corporate level or were franchised, ROC only called individual locations in four Southern states.[20] The report did not list the survey questions asked of the restaurants in the study or the individuals that researchers spoke with to obtain the survey answers.

In a 2010 report, ROC related that 90% of 4,000 restaurant workers surveyed between 2003 and 2010 reported not receiving health insurance through their employer, while 61.5% reported that they had no insurance at all.[1][21]


Since its founding, ROC has expanded to 32 cities across the country with more than 13,000 restaurant workers, 100 employers and 2,000 consumers claimed as members.[3] Restaurant Opportunities Centers United was founded in January 2008 following a national restaurant workers' convention that took place in Chicago in August 2007.[22] ROC has affiliate offices in New York, D.C, Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston, New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago, Oakland, and Pittsburgh.

COLORS restaurantsEdit

ROC-NY also helped create a worker-owned restaurant called COLORS in New York City,[23] in an effort to demonstrate that a restaurant that treats employees fairly can still be profitable. The restaurant, according to critics, has been a consistent money loser, is closed to the public for long stretches, and has received multiple citations from the New York City Health Department for "critical violations."[24]

The restaurant also serves as a training facility for students in ROC's training sessions for skills.[25] ROC-Michigan opened a COLORS restaurant in downtown Detroit in September 2011.[26][27]


Washington lobbyist Richard Berman, of Berman and Company and the Center for Consumer Freedom has taken out full-page ads attacking ROC and set up a website attacking its work.[2] Berman's Employment Policies Institute produces reports used by restaurant industry groups in their lobbying campaign against the increase in the minimum wage, although the quality and reliability of such reports has been contested by academics.[28]


In 2007, ROC was sued by its worker-owners for matters related to the profit that will come from the restaurant Colors, and requiring them to pay monthly dues, attend protests, and lobby for ROC causes and other unrelated causes, including against the war in Iraq. The workers that objected were fired by Saru Jayaraman, although all claims in the lawsuit were dismissed by the court.[29][30] In 2010 it was reported that COLORS New York was “struggling to pay its bills, and it's sorting out management problems dating back to its inception.”[31] U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote in a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis that Colors in New York City had a "troubling history of poor sanitation."[32] In addition, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is investigating whether ROC should be subject to federal labor laws.[33]


  1. ^ a b "Eatocracy - CNN". CNN. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Greenhouse, Steven (January 16, 2014). "Advocates for Workers Raise the Ire of Business". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Activist at vanguard of restaurant workers' rights". Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b La Botz, Dan (January–February 2004). "Immigrant Restaurant Workers Hope to Rock New York". Dollars & Sense. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  5. ^ Dobnik, Verena (September 10, 2003). "Restaurant workers look through new Windows". Times Daily.
  6. ^ The Real News Network, 11 November 2011, "9/11 Survivors Create Worker Owned Restaurants 9/11: Restaurant worker survivors open fair wage businesses"
  7. ^ "What Goes on Behind the Kitchen Door : Bay Area Bites". Retrieved 2018-05-20.
  8. ^ "Book Review: The Accidental American - IMAGINE 2050". 10 November 2009. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  9. ^ "Raise the Sub-Minimum Wage". 22 September 2013. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  10. ^ Wood, Marjorie E. (5 February 2014). "Tipping the Scales of Inequality". OtherWords. Institute for Policy Studies. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  11. ^ London, Paul A. (September 18, 2012). "Good News: Restaurants Are Hiring". Huffington Post. Retrieved December 10, 2012.
  12. ^ Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, "What We Do" accessed November 11, 2011
  13. ^ "Restaurant Opportunities Centers United launch campaign to improve restaurant industry jobs". Time Out Chicago. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  14. ^ "Darden Restaurants: Corporate Rap Sheet - Corporate Research Project". Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Workers grill Darden Restaurants CEO at shareholders meeting". Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Almost 20,000 join Darden Restaurants lawsuit". Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  19. ^ Parasecoli, Fabio (2013-01-15). "Not Your Usual Restaurant Reviews". Retrieved 2013-02-14.
  20. ^ Restaurant Opportunities Center (2013). "Diners' Guide": 31. Retrieved 2013-02-14. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  21. ^ "Serving While Sick". Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  22. ^ "About Us: Our History". Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Archived from the original on May 10, 2012. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  23. ^ New York Post, "'WINDOWS' BACK OPEN - 9/11 SURVIVORS LAUNCH EATERY" accessed November 20, 2012
  24. ^ "COLORS report" (PDF). Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  25. ^ "High-End Food, Low-Wage Labor - Dissent Magazine". Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  26. ^ Detroit News, "Colors-Detroit cooks up good food and training opportunities" accessed November 8, 2012
  27. ^ Huffington Post, "COLORS-Detroit Restaurant Cooks Up Local Foods, Labor Rights" accessed November 20, 2012
  28. ^ "Fight Over Minimum Wage Illustrates Web of Industry Ties". 9 February 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2018 – via
  29. ^ Elliott, Tom (March 22, 2007). ""Social Justice" Hypocrites". New York Post.
  30. ^ All claims in the lawsuit were dismissed by the court;see decision: Godoy v. Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York, 615 F.Supp.2d 186 (S.D.N.Y. 2009).
  31. ^ Fickenscher, Lisa (2010-06-27). "True Colors". Crain’s New York. Retrieved 2013-02-14.
  32. ^ New York Post, "House probes NY restaurant-harass group" accessed November 12, 2012
  33. ^ "House Committee Letter" (PDF). Retrieved 20 May 2018.


External linksEdit