You probably don’t know what’s going on behind-the-scenes of your favorite restaurant, and as long as that tuna is delivered to the table medium-rare and tastes delicious, you might not care; but if you’ve never worked in some facet of the restaurant industry, consider yourself among the minority.
Some days are amazing. You saunter into work at 4pm, convince a couple of tables to order the fish special, bond with your equally lax-minded co-workers and leave at 11pm with $300 cash in your pocket. Other days are a specific definition of hell. You work 13 hours on a double shift, get reprimanded a million times for describing the fish special wrong or for forgetting to clear a plate or for folding a napkin into a rectangle when it should be a square; and leave with $60 dollars, aching feet and a sore back.
This industry survives and thrives in its own world and makes up its own rules without any real reasoning or just cause. I’ve spent the last two years relying heavily on tips to pay my rent so yes… I am absolutely biased. There is no doubt that the business provides income to countless immigrants, struggling college students and those of us who can’t seem to make up our mind on a career path. Restaurants also contribute exponentially to Philly’s economy, but relying on an unstable and inconsistent work environment for an income is unsettling. Having to share your stomach with those butterflies fluttering around constantly from not knowing if you’re gonna make any money tomorrow gets old real fast.
Well, it looks like the restaurant Gods have finally answered our prayers…let me introduce you to ROC. The Restaurant Opportunities Center has been fightin’ for those servers, bussers, prep cooks and dishwashers since 2008 but has only recently touched down in Philly to bless us with our own equal opportunity rights.
When ROC opens its doors in a new city, they work hard to educate industry employers and promote the “high road to profitability” by teaching them how to sustain a business while treating their employees justly. ROC also holds specialized trainings for workers that want to learn new skills like bartending or fine-dining in order to create mobility for them so they can make more of those dollar-dollar bills. Simultaneously, they discourage exploitative workplaces and improve industry standards through public policy campaigns. ROC was able to raise the minimum wage from $2.83 to $5.00 for tipped workers in New York, which is pretty amazing.
A major area of focus for The ROC is the fact that many workers feel forced to go to work sick because they can’t afford to take the day off without pay. With no help from the claustrophobic work space, their cold gets spread to others, your tuna special inevitably get handled by someone with that cold and all of a sudden, you, the diner have reason to care about what is happening behind the doors of that kitchen.
With the help of Fabricio Rodriguez and Andrea Lemoins, the forces behind the Philly division of ROC, attention is being brought to the Sick Leave Legislation, which was passed by City Council on June 16th of this year, but was then vetoed by Mayor Nutter. Rodriguez and Lemoins will obviously continue to get through to Mr. Nutter and they plan on initiating campaigns in Philly to further improve working conditions and to create health insurance programs.
ROC has made much-needed major strides in other cities and is hell-bent on doing the same here, the restaurant God’s know we absolutely need all the help we can get.
**All photos courtesy of Restaurant Opportunities Center.