The NYT profiled Saru Jayaraman, a 29-year-old activist for Manhattan restaurant workers, last week (thanks, Ms. World):
She is the executive director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, a little nonprofit that just pulled off a David-versus-Goliath feat. The center extracted $164,000 from two fashionable Manhattan restaurants – Cite and the Park Avenue Cafe – to settle lawsuits that involved charges of discrimination and failure to pay overtime to 23 restaurant employees, most of whom are immigrants from Mexico and Bangladesh.
The ‘pretty people in sales, pimply workhorses in the back office’ model is used by many, many industries (software, consulting, finance). But you can’t put it in employment ads. There’s a euphemistic hypocrisy here, but like blind auditions at symphony orchestras, it at least gives interviewees an honest shot.
“… you wouldn’t believe the ads put out by restaurant employers – ‘good-looking required, send photos’ – to be a waiter. Employers have told us that means they want good-looking white people in the front and hard workers in the back. Hard workers mean immigrants…”
Jayaraman has an interesting background:
A daughter of immigrants from southern India, a graduate of Yale Law School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, she was singled out and honored as one of America’s finest young people in 1995 by President Bill Clinton… Ms. Jayaraman, whose father is an unemployed software developer and whose mother is a school aide, grew up in a Mexican-American neighborhood in southeast Los Angeles… She teaches… immigrant rights at New York University… She is a soprano who used to sing with a gospel choir at Harvard.
Jayaraman’s organization is opening its own coop-style restaurant on a fashionable street in Manhattan. It’ll be an interesting experiment in a tough biz.
This fall, it plans to open a restaurant, Colors, on Lafayette Street near Astor Place, to be owned and governed by workers.