Islices of watermelons and lemons dance around text that reads "what are our options?"t’s been a rough, but enlightening, year. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, our industry, our tolerance for BS, and what makes a workplace worth it. Better wages are in order. But what about all the other factors that contribute to a healthier, more equitable workplace? What other practices build harmony, prevent burnout and needless stress? 

Here, The Dish presents a few options to chew on; ideas for you to bring to your coworkers, your employers, possibly your unions. We may not be able to turn our industry into a worker-owned and-run paradise in 2021, but we can push for some best practices moving forward. Even if you don’t yet have a workplace in which to push for these things, express your interest in these practices in interviews, let employers know the standards have to be raised moving forward, and that workers are going to be insisting on better baseline treatment. 

  • Regular staff meetings, with staff input.

Staff meetings may sound pretty basic; maybe we’ve worked somewhere with staff meetings, but they were ineffective and lacking staff input. Issues are often noticed in the midst of a dinner rush, revealed in chaotic moments. It might take days (or weeks!) for concerns to reach the ears of a manager, who may or may not get it addressed and may or may not ask workers for input or solutions. 

For many, the pandemic was the first time their workplace had regular meetings to discuss safety protocols, changes in workflow or changes in hours and staffing. Regular facetime makes a difference, especially if meetings aren’t just a time for management/owners to dictate new policies, but are structured to include worker input (maybe even voting!). Some managers avoid meetings for this reason, since a divided workforce that discourages communication is easier to manipulate. 

If you think management would be hesitant, approach them with a meeting proposal and a list of low-key issues that you and coworkers would like to discuss. Make a commitment to keep those early meetings running smoothly to help establish them as a regular, productive practice that could then take on tougher issues as you find your voices (and power!) as a workforce. 

  • Workplace safety/wellness committees

The creation of a group of employees who take on responsibility for seeking worker input on issues of safety and wellbeing is often a first step towards forming a union. The pandemic made the need for worker input on safety practices abundantly clear, as managers and owners demonstrated repeatedly that they didn’t understand how new protocols were going to play out on the actual floors of their establishments. 

But even post-pandemic, an official group that meets regularly to discuss workplace safety and wellness issues can be an effective way to amplify your voices. Instead of griping to each other in the walk-in, a worker-formed committee demonstrates knowledge and capability that employers often overlook or downplay to shut workers out of the decision-making process. 

  • Scheduling notice 

Some states and regions have laws requiring workplaces to post schedules with a certain amount of notice (often 14 days). These are often called “predictive scheduling” or “fair workweek” laws.  No one should have to wait until 10pm on Saturday night to schedule the next week’s (or day’s!) child care, medical appointments, or anything else that needs planning. But even if your region doesn’t require it by law, there’s nothing to say your workplace can’t adopt this policy voluntarily. (Maybe it’s something that could be brought up diplomatically by a Workplace Wellness Committee or in a regularly scheduled staff meeting). 

Anti-worker propaganda sometimes claims that workers themselves don’t like advance scheduling because we “enjoy the flexibility” of our scheduling, a disingenuous claim that posting a schedule somehow means it can’t be changed for any reason. This just isn’t true; laws allow for mutually agreed upon swaps. One bar I worked at posted schedules months in advance;  – we’d work out time off, special requests, and other modifications as needed, sometimes weeks or months in advance. Remember, posting early also means allowing people to get coverage early, instead of scrambling at the last moment on pleading text threads. If your employer needs convincing, there have already been studies showing increased productivity and sales in workplaces with advance scheduling. 

  • Tip-pooling

This may seem counter-intuitive. Why would you want to share the $20 tip from table 4 with your co-workers when you are the one who waited on them? Trust me,it’s better. On a given night you may make a little more or less than you would have otherwise, but over time, it makes income more predictable, which allows for a less stressful life. It brings us closer to actually making an hourly wage instead of relying solely on the generosity of customers and nice weather for our income. More importantly, it fosters better relationships between coworkers and a more cooperative mindset where we are all working together. 

One issue that must be further explored is how to ensure pay equity between front-of-house and back-of-house. When waiting tables, you might make more than a line cook overall, but you really only get paid if there are customers. Meanwhile, BOH slaves for long hours and while their hourly pay is higher than the servers, they often don’t make a livable wage. Why not have a set, living wage for every restaurant worker and then pool the tips across the whole house, front and back? This would ameliorate the divisive dynamics of the restaurant, and help us foster trust in one another as co-workers which could be the basis for organizing to demand more from our jobs. 

  • Open book management

As you might have noticed, this listicle is moving from a generally “easier to accomplish” to “bigger goal” direction. Open book management may be harder to push for in a culture notoriously tight-lipped about finances, but it’s something to have on one’s radar and to discuss with co-workers. This system entails sharing financial information with workers so that they understand what money comes in, what money goes out and where/who to. 

Proponents point to the educational value of giving workers the big picture of what affects profitability, and greater worker engagement connecting their actions to the overall success of the company. I’ve always been baffled by some establishment’s secrecy around basic numbers. Opening books can also be implemented to varying degrees, and unsurprisingly, some in the business community think bonus and salary info really need not be shared (insert eyeroll here) but even getting access to info on cost (what does each cocktail cost to make? how much profit is made on each sandwich?) is an important step. 

  • Vacation. Real F*#king Vacation. Preferably paid

Ok. I know. The European-social-democracy standard of four weeks paid vacation for everyone, regardless of their job, is probably far off for the US at the moment. But the pandemic has made thousands of hospitality workers realize that downtime is important. And some employers are taking notice. This small restaurant in Michigan decided that in the wake of the stresses of the pandemic, they were going to close for a week and give everyone a paid vacation. In Charlotte, N.C., where chefs are organizing to push for higher wages in their industry, one chef is offering four weeks paid vacation. He says he’s not experienced a hiring shortage. 

  • Co-operative/collective ownership

Yup, a restaurant or bar entirely owned by the people who work in it –  no managers, no owners –  just a team running all the operations, sharing all the profits. Seems pretty out of reach right? That’s probably exactly what the workers at White Electric Coffee in Providence, R. I., thought before they ended up forming a union and later buying their workplace when the owner decided it was time to sell. You never know! So it’s good to read up a bit and be prepared in case your worker-owner chance comes along. 

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where everyone knows about the Cheeseboard – an amazing cheese and pizza shop that’s been a worker-owned cooperative since 1971, as well as newer experiments like it. Worker co-ops remain rare, and securing financing for one is a major hurdle as our lending systems just aren’t used to this kind of model. There are also other difficulties; some people don’t want the decision-making responsibilities that will come with this model, and even if you’re a co-op, you’re still competing as a business in a capitalist marketplace. There’s a lot of debate about co-ops on a deeper strategic level: some believe they are ideal vehicles for building worker power and fostering democracy, while others counter that they take workers out of the fight directly with capitalism. But if you’ve ever had a moment when unresponsive management frustrates you and you see your co-workers on the floor doing the heavy lifting and have thought “we could do this all ourselves,” then this might be an idea to ponder.

an abstract pastel rainbow background, with black text reading "june editorial pride & possibilities"Pride & Possibilities

We work in restaurants because we need a paycheck. Some of us love the work and feel in our bones that this is our chosen trade. Others have taken the job willing to hire on the spot. But the reason we are employed is because we must work to live. These jobs add enormous value to our cultural fabric, yet they are precarious and often disposable to the people who are in them. 

 

At best, our jobs create unshakable bonds between us and our co-workers. A type of relationship you can only forge through the battle of a terribly busy night. At worst, they leave us exhausted from turnaround shifts, neglecting our health because we have no insurance, scrambling to pick up extra shifts so that the ends can meet, never knowing when the next day off will come. 

 

We want our jobs to be bearable. We want more control over our schedules. We want hours that allow us to still have lives. We want respect. We want a workplace where every person is safe from gender oppression and from racial discrimination. These demands are more than reasonable, and they are winnable. And we will fight for them. 

 

For us at The Dish, our insistence that restaurants should be just and safe for the people who run them is tied to our conviction that everyone deserves to be fed. Period. And the elaborate, interesting, exciting meals that are currently reserved only for those who can afford them, should be experienced by all. We organize to address the inadequacies in our own treatment because we – and everyone else – should have better quality of life, a living wage, health care, and, of course, the occasional elaborate feast with those we hold near and dear.  

 

While the restaurant can be the site of bonding and enjoyment, let’s appreciate its dual nature for a moment. It is where people come to get sustenance. It is a hub for communities to thrive. A place to break bread and discuss thoughts and desires or have a hard conversation that needs to happen. It brings us comfort and joy. It allows a degree of creativity, where cooks and bartenders experiment with different ingredients to share. 

 

But in a profit driven system, the restaurant is one thing above all else – a miniscule factory where workers produce a product to be made and sold. It exists to generate enough profit to keep it going, or it will go under. Whether we are conscious of it or not, this taints the experience from preparation to consumption for all involved. This helps us understand why restaurants are a living hell to work in. 

 

Maybe this also allows us to start thinking about possibilities for changing them, and changing the way we think about food consumption in general? What if we went away from the factory model and instead thought of a model where food was a basic entitlement and an integral part of how people interact with each other? 

 

Along with universal medicine and housing, shouldn’t restaurants also be socialized? They could be located squarely in the public sector with centralized labor standards and collectively bargained union contracts. Imagine if it was akin to public education – a social welfare that must be provided to all. 

 

Some might argue that this would take the spice out of dining out, that it would no longer allow for the creative ingenuity of culinary art and service. Of course that is one possibility. Our vision, however, is not of cafeterias, but of thriving community centers that have license to explore different cuisines and ways of running things. If restaurant workers in every community were provided with public funds to provide food as a public service, we could come up with all kinds of genius arrangements. Maybe food service is the public sector fight of our times? It’s a thought experiment worth exploring. 

 

Like so many things under a for-profit system, just because we’ve come up with a simple solution does not mean it is easy to achieve. Yet, we’ve seen a glimpse into these possibilities. 

 

Some years back a prolonged blackout consumed NYC and surrounding areas. Every restaurant had to get rid of their food before it spoiled. That one night, August 13, 2003, every corner was filled with people communally eating prepared food for free. This wasn’t fun for the people who worked in the places, but it plants the seed of a novel idea.

 

Or remember Occupy Wall Street? Where any day of the week you could go down to Zuccotti Park and have a hot meal? Every workers’ occupation or prolonged strike has devised creative means of collective sustenance. 

 

The pandemic could have been an opportunity for rethinking the nature of the restaurant. If people can’t go out to eat, why can’t a restaurant be subsidized by the state to provide take out meals to people in neighborhoods? Makes good sense, doesn’t it?

 

And of course, we have also seen a proliferation of mutual aid efforts, espeicailly since the uprising against the murder of George Floyd, where community groups organized to make sure that protests were supplied with masks, hand sanitizer, water and snacks for the long marches into the night.

 

These are all examples of what restaurants *could* be used for that would promote social betterment and introduce collectivity into the otherwise atomized, profit driven hubs of alienation that we have come to know as canon. The problem, of course, is that those examples, in and of themselves, do not address our most pressing demands as workers in the industry. 

 

We need to bring that creativity and inspiration with us into our workplaces, with the trust that those people – who have been fed and cared for by others in the streets – will also have our backs when we organize. When our labor is valued for what it provides to the social good, it can improve our workplaces, and it can also make a more just society overall. The organizing we do at our jobs is a part of that process of pushing back against the things in our daily lives that make no sense. In doing so, it forces us to think about all the possibilities – both good and bad – of what we can achieve when we organize as restaurant workers. 

 

So with that thought experiment about the possibilities of socialization, we leave you to read the June edition of The Dish: Pride & Possibilities. June is Pride month and we are honored to host this piece on what it’s like to transition as a server. And this piece about the history of restaurants and bars as flashpoints for LGBTQ+ organizing. Happy Pride to every LGBTQ+ restaurant worker hustling and facing discrimination on top of low pay and lack of benefits. We also have some other Possibilities: the possibility of winning a union drive; of improving our workplaces; of committing to an anti-racist industry; of how the local food movement could lead to more attention on the labor that goes into food; plus a darker hypothetical in our very first piece of restaurant worker fiction!

An Anti-Racist Restaurant Industry

As restaurant and service industry organizers it’s not only important but an absolute necessity to be forthright in our anti-racist politics. In order to see a shift in the means of production we must be able to connect our efforts to BLM, abolition, queer, and immigrant liberation.

The Dirty Laundry 

If you happen to wonder why then let’s first let’s lay it out plainly, racism is and has always been completely intertwined with the industry. From the creation of the sub minimum wage and its ties to slavery to racist myths about Chinese food. The myth about MSG, which is a flavor enhancer similar to salt, that says the food is prone to give you headaches and make you sick, a myth based in *checks notes* oh that’s right not science, just racism. We see similar trends with Mexican, Indian, African, Korean food, and other non white cultures. Of course, living in a capitalist society, wage theft and poor labor practices are almost a given in any industry, but we see this is grossly, disproportionately aggressive for Brown and Black folks. We also see a structure that sees a racial difference in who’s staffed where. White folk are more likely to hold managerial positions. In non Black or brown owned establishments we are likely to see less BIPOC folk in Front of House(FOH) positions such as hosts, servers, and bartenders and more likely to see them in the Back of House(BOH) such as Dishwasher, Prep and Line Cook positions. BOH is typically where pay is lower and hours are longer. The list goes on.

Last year, the George Floyd uprising started, which was fueled by abolitionist organizing, leading to a reckoning in many industries and their racist and anti-Black structures. If you thought the service industry was left out, oh boy howdy it sure wasn’t. In Chicago we saw the 86d list pop up detailing establishments that harbored white supremacist, sexist, queerphobic, or pro-cop environments. Though we saw places like Nini’s Deli and Fat Rice close, in a lot of cases this reckoning fizzled down to owners giving some woke statement or posting a black square on Instagram, providing no fundamental change. Of course this is not to downplay many of the very real victories that the abolitionist and BLM uprising gathered. However, it is painfully clear that seeking change from the good will of our bosses is gonna result in an all you can eat buffet of disappointment. 

So the question is, how do we organize in a way that not only addresses these racist structures but also makes a connection to abolition and actively abolish current structures? 

As a chef and BOH worker, it’s no secret that in most restaurants, bars, and etc., the BOH staff, and overall the backbone of these establishments are overwhelmingly Black, Brown, and immigrant. Knowing this makes it painstakingly clear any approach we take NEEDS to unify both houses. 

Last summer in Philadelphia we saw white supremacist vigilantes take the streets in Fishtown attacking anyone who looked “Antifa” or like a BLM activist. Under the guise of “protecting property” a certain Lebanese restaurant owner I worked for may have been featured in an article sympathizing with those vigilantes. The staff of that restaurant may have been talking amongst themselves to organize a response and demand some sort of justice with a major change in the restaurant. However, this thread of emails failed to reach any BOH employee, working or furloughed, for 2 weeks. I was the first one. When it finally reached the others there was a sense of discouragement especially considering the vast majority of Black staff was in the back. Due to this, among other reasons, it led nowhere before we could even begin a possible union conversation. This serves as a reminder to me to never allow that mistake to happen again.

I would be remiss however if I failed to mention that heteronormative norms also dominate both FOH and BOH. This creates an environment that quickly becomes a horror story for any queer folk or  women in this industry. Again, this is disproportionate for Black and Brown folks. Trans folks are subjected to a status quo that sees them harassed, invalidated, and worse. We know trans folks struggle to find housing from transphobic landlords. A 2015 study showed that at least 30% of trans folk have experienced homelessness at one point in their life, a metric that has since increased. For the unlucky few who step into a restaurant that is unaccepting, to put it lightly, death inches closer. I’d like take moment to praise Hash and other Queer owned restaurants, bars, and coffee houses. We must collectively reflect on the fact that they needed to be made in the first place.

It’s also important to point out that on the FOH end Black folks, specifically Black women are more likely to be tipped worse than White counterparts and receive more frequent levels of harassment. We have seen an increase in this during the pandemic era. Through a One Fair Wage Tipped Worker Survey Data we see a few stark differences. The report says that tips have decreased since COVID-19 by at least 50% or more. This decrease indicates that 78% of all workers are impacted, but the number is higher for Black workers at 88%. This report shows that workers experienced or witnessed hostile behavior from customers in response to staff enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols. The results are similar with it impacting 84% all workers, and  86% Black Workers. It also showcases that on a weekly basis 62% of all workers,  and 73% of Black workers have received a decreased tip from a customer in response to enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols. The toll this has and continues to take on people cannot be ignored. Being paycheck to paycheck while exploited by your boss combined with this level of contempt from patrons is enough to make anyone leave this industry.

On the flipside when we allow racist ideas to fester in our workplace customers, specifically Black customers, are also recipients of this. The notion that Black patrons don’t tip well runs rampant in restaurants resulting in negligent or even offensive service. Whether we’re ready to talk about it or not, frankly, doesn’t matter. It’s inexcusable.

Acknowledging this, I’d like to point out that of course unionizing makes all of this a lot more feasible, but as our comrades from Colectivo and Amazon showed, it’s not an easy fight, and always an uphill battle. Since the weeks following the results of the Amazon campaign we’ve been made aware of how a capitalist powerhouse can spend literal tens of thousands of dollars a day to squash campaigns, having paid anti-union lectures, intimidation phone calls, to posting anti-union propaganda in bathroom stalls. Colectivo shows us you don’t need to be Amazon to engage in these tactics. Colectivo paid LRI, a “Union Avoidance” firm, $1500 a day. Furthermore, oftentimes just saying ”unionize” to people seeking help is dismissive and also reads as “figure it out yourself”. So while unions are a powerful tool for the proletariat they aren’t our only one or the only source for wins.

Direct and Loud Demands

Now while I love talking shit about the industry as much as the next person I also would like to take the time to lay out some demands.

Organizing to remove the tipped sub minimum wage and overall raising the minimum wage would inherently benefit BIPOC workers seeing as they are disproportionately the least paid workers in the industry. Thus creating a more equitable workplace. This will also lessen the amount of sexual harassment that takes place. In states that have the sub minimum wage women, especially Black women, are subjected higher levels of sexual harassment. The connection is clear. The client has the power over the server because they determine their pay for that day. The patrons become empowered to make these assaults without fear of repercussions.

A way I believe we can connect to abolition is we can take steps toward giving workers a vote  around hiring. This could help in making sure previous convictions and one’s identity does not keep folks from getting hired or dictate what position they are able to get. For example, a formerly incarcerated person getting a low wage for whatever arbitrary reason, or a Black man applying for a server job but getting offered a dishwasher or line cook position instead.

Another demand should be getting our establishments to cut ties with calling the police and surveillance. I know from experience in River North (a neighborhood in Chicago grossly in need of looting, I mean redistributing) has restaurants and bars that are prone to call the police on people they deem “suspicious”. When you have White and White-collar-job dominated neighborhoods suspicious often equates to not white. Just as bad is calling the police on folks who are homeless. Mental health issues increase among the homeless community, as do access to facilities for water and cooked food, and when they have a crisis the result of them being policed can lead to jailing, brutalization, or worse, death.

Another demand that would pave way for further progress is making sure workplaces do not use E- Verify. For folks unfamiliar I wont link them because fuck the Ops. E-Verify, established in 1996, is a DHS website that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees, both U.S. and foreign citizens, to work in the U.S. Surveillance technology must always be opposed. What this does is put undocumented workers into much more exploitable positions whether it be being paid under the table or being denied jobs that may have provided higher wages and healthcare. This also creates an environment where your livelihood solely depends on if the employer decides to stop paying you or report you to ICE. This strips the worker of any power to defend themselves. 

A Different Vision

Something I’ve been thinking about more and more is what if we built our own place?

One of the key tenants to abolition is to create a world that makes police and policing obsolete. While the service industry isn’t normally seen as a direct pillar of police, I believe the argument can be made that it serves a role in maintaining a society of policing. This is done by keeping workers in poverty, reducing access to health and child care, use of surveillance and so on.

I’ve heard it said that this industry is a sort of safety net for people, a statement that I hate when I think of my growling stomach in between paychecks and with a cracked windshield that turned 3 this year. However, what if it truly was a safety net? What would that look like? We must not allow the decrepit state of the status quo to strip us of our Hope.

As Mariame Kaba states in We Do This ’Til We Free Us : 

Hope is a discipline and that we have to practice it every single day. Because in the  world we live in, it’s easy to feel a sense of hopelessness, that everything is all bad all the  time, that nothing is going to change ever, that people are evil and bad at the bottom. It  feels sometimes that it’s proven in various different ways, so I really get that. Understand  why people feel that way. I just choose differently. I choose to think a different way, and I  choose to act in a different way. I choose to trust people until they prove themselves  untrustworthy.” 

What if we took our vision, our imagination, anti-racist, anti-capitalist politics, use these as our lense. We could use that and create our own place. Somewhere that is not just occupying space in a community but fully committed to it. A place whose hierarchy isn’t vertically structured. This place could be a hub for other organizers, a place of political growth, where we can acquire living wages for all workers and health insurance. Ive taken alot of inspiration on this idea from Reem Assil a Palestinian Syrian chef in Oakland, who was previously a labor organizer. During the pandemic she transitioned her restaurant to a worker owned model. I bring this up not as a replacement for organizing within existing workplaces but as an addition to it.

In an interview by Alicia Kennedy she goes through her experience throughout this transition. Within this interview she asserts her unapologetic political stances and is not silent about her identity as a Palestinian women.

We can also look to the past for a radical lens for what restaurants, cafes, and bars can look like. During the Vietnam War era radical coffee houses began popping up in California near military bases dubbed “G.I. Coffee Houses“. Local activists alongside G.I. Movement activists worked together to strategically place these close enough for active duty members and vets to visit but far enough for military intervention with the intent to create solidarity in the anti-war movement. This network of shops served as a hub for activists, a place to organize, plan actions, educate, spread political propaganda, and aid in getting lawyers for arrested activists.

While these coffee houses began to dwindle for a myriad of reasons, what remains is an incredible impact on what service industry can do when radicals hold autonomy. While there are mistakes we must learn from, what we should take away from this is, it’s been done before and it can be done again. When service industry folks who are anti-imperialism, anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchy, anti-racist work collectiveize and hold autonomy in coffee houses, fast and full service restaurants, and so on, what we see is a powerful and beautiful tool for revolutionary movements.

Of course the ways that we go about anti-racist organizing within the industry will show up differently from place to place. This organizing must always come from a framework tied to BLM and Abolition movements if we truly want to see liberation for all. When Black folks win, we all do.

“Again??” Patrick stormed into the kitchen, his face a shade brighter than the ketchup he was licking off his thumb, beads of sweat emerging from the pores on his forehead. “Another no call no show? What’s going on? I have never had to deal with turnover like this. Shit. Javi, don’t you have another cousin or something you can call?”

Javier stared at him blankly.

“Artro primero? No tee-en?” He was so angry his sweat was practically steaming up into the vacuum of the hood. “Fuck. I guess I’ll just call the agency.” He didn’t wait for a response.

“No voy a traer a nadie más de mi familia aquí,” Javier muttered to Carlos as the kitchen door swung violently behind Patrick. “No por lo que pagan. Ni siquiera he escuchado de Felipe desde que dejó de aparecer. Probablemente me odia por decirle que viniera a trabajar con nosotros.”

Vivian and Sienna had been polishing glasses, listening to Patrick’s raised voice booming from the kitchen, making sure to look fully immersed in the task as he blew past them, a one-man stampede of fury barreling his way from the kitchen to the dining room.

“Wow. I guess we lost another dishwasher. What is that, like the fourth in four months?” Sienna said as she held another Burgundy glass to the steam.

“Yeah, and Javi said it’s always the same thing. They finish their shift, clean up, lock up, and peace out. Forever. Like total radio silence, they’re that pissed off.”

“Weird. But like, they clean up and everything? If they’re going to just quit without notice never to be heard from again, why do they bother? Do you think it has something to do with the new ownership? I mean, nothing much has changed for us, but maybe they’re fucking with back of house more than we know?”

Vivian shrugged. 

“These glasses are coming out all streaky. Look— there’s like goop on the rim.” Sienna was happy to change the subject. She knew the dishwasher situation was a little raw for Vivian since Juan dropped off the face of the Earth a few months ago. They had started seeing each other and then one day he just vanished. He stopped coming to work and she never heard from him again. It’s hard not to take things like that personally, getting ghosted on that badly; like just because he quit the job he had to quit her too.

Patrick ended up putting one of the bussers on dish that night, and a few days later he was able to find someone to take the position. His name was Diego and the man was huge. He was so big, he had to crouch under doorways and could barely fit in the walk-in. But he made it work— for someone so monumentally tall and strong, he was equally agile, and a perfect employee. He was glad for the job; he’d had a hard time finding steady work and the position called for six shifts a week, which, even though the pay wasn’t what he’d have wanted, the hours made up for it.

No one was happier than Patrick. “You’re gonna stick around, amigo? Don’t go running away on us, okay?”

“No, sir. I like it here,” he responded. Patrick smiled and left the kitchen.

Vivian and Sienna were back polishing glasses before service, talking about how grateful they were not to have to be scraping little bits off the stemware anymore.

“It’s like every time one of them jumps ship, they deliberately mess up the dishwasher so that it leaves all that crap on everything. Like some kind of final ‘fuck you’ to the job. They clean everything else up on the way out except the machine? And it’s always us who has to deal with it.” She held her glass to the light. “It’s not like Patrick ever sees.”

“Yeah. Patrick’s useless,” Vivian agreed. “But Diego’s great. He got the whole thing working like new again. He said he had to pull out this big wad of hair or something that somehow got stuck in there. It was clogging everything up, but he fixed it.”

“Hair?” Sienna questioned, thoroughly disgusted.

“Well it probably wasn’t hair, it was probably like some scrubber sponge that had been lodged in the machine for months and got all stringy and black from mildew or whatever. But how gross is that? Diego was super weirded out by it.”

“Yeah of course— it sounds disgusting. But, other than that, he likes it here?”

“Yeah,” Vivian said. “He seems really happy.”

“Ugh thank god.”

For the next three weeks everything was perfect. Diego wasn’t just the model employee Patrick had prayed for, he was loved by the entire staff as if he’d been there forever. He would bring in homemade pupusas and share them with everyone for family meal. Since he was always the last one in the restaurant at the end of the night, everyone would grab drinks down the block while they waited for him to finish up so they could all hang out after their shift.. He was just great to be around. 

Then, one night, he didn’t show up to the bar. Javier checked the time and saw that it was already 1:00. Way later than Diego usually wrapped up and they had gotten out pretty early that night. They started getting concerned that maybe something happened, so Javier and Carlos headed back over to the restaurant to check up on him.

All the lights were still on and the dishwasher was running. But it sounded all jammed up, like it was choking on something, and Diego was gone. They figured he was probably downstairs checking the plumbing and decided to wait for him by the machine in case it exploded, which it sounded like it might. The noises were getting louder, constant thuds and violent banging, so Carlos decided to lift the door and check what was going on in there.

And he found Diego. It was absolute carnage; blood and guts and bone all stirred up in the Ecolab, the drain struggling to gulp the remains of what once was Diego down the pipes. 

Javier and Carlos were so stunned by the mess of viscera—the ribbons of flesh that got twisted around the spray arm, the detached eyeball that bounced around as the spinning slowed, the expression on what remained of his face— that they didn’t hear the footsteps coming up the stairs.

“He was too big.” The voice from behind them jolted them out of their shock. “I told Patrick to keep the dishwashers under 5’10. He broke the machine.” It was the owner. He had come up from the office when he heard the machine stop running.

“What?” Javier had only joked about the picking off of dishwashers as an explanation for the mass disappearances that had occurred. He had never thought it could actually be anything so sinister.

“Coming into our country. No papers. No trail. It’s so easy. None of them want any involvement with law enforcement. You think the cops would even care? A victimless crime, you know?” Without hesitation, the owner of the restaurant produced a gun from his pocket and shot both Javier and Carlos on the spot. The men fell to the floor, dead. “See? No one will miss you either.”

First, he called Patrick to let him know to alert the staff that the restaurant would be closed the next day. He had a lot more clean-up than he was used to. Then, before they started to decompose, while there were traces of life still in them, he drained the bodies that belonged to Carlos and Javier of their blood, rinsed his hands off in the sani bucket, and called the landlord.

“Hey, it’s me. I have this month’s offering all bottled up for you. But tonight I got three. You think we could make it thirty percent in that case?”

The man on the other end of the phone did not sound as impressed as he had hoped. “That’s not how this works. One body worth of blood is worth ten percent off your rent. There is nothing in our agreement that states that three bodies will get you thirty. The sacrifice requires precisely what I have asked of you. What do you expect me to do with the rest of it? Freeze it? It won’t keep. You think He wants to drink bitter blood? Don’t insult me like that. And you know only so much pulp can fit through the pipes without clogging them. The other two bodies are yours to dispose of. You figure it out.” 

And he hung up the phone, leaving the owner alone in the silent room with three dead employees and more work ahead of him than he had bargained for.

Pavement Coffeehouse seems set to be Massachusetts’ first unionized café. Last week, just days after a unionization campaign went public, management issued a statement of neutrality and agreed to recognize authorization cards, clearing the path ahead. With an apparent supermajority of 80 employees already signing authorization cards, union recognition seems all but assured. Solidarity to Pavement Coffeehouse employees and congratulations on this important first step!

While it often takes months or even years for a unionization campaign to unfold, the events at Pavement largely took place just in the last month, as tensions that had been building for a year—over COVID-19 and an unwelcoming working environment—exploded. 

“We are reopening into a new paradigm where workers are ready to take back the power that they deserve, and Pavement Coffeehouse workers are leading the way.”

Employees relayed to Working Mass that Pavement’s overwhelmingly white and male upper-management had created a hostile work environment over the past year—including unwelcome interactions between management and employees. Employees remarked that the situation was especially severe for women, non-binary, and queer people. Calls for improved human resources practices went unheeded. Employees wanted to organize, but the high turnover inherent to the industry was exacerbated as the negative environment drove workers to quit.

In early May of this year, one respected non-binary manager was forced out, leading to a wave of resignations in protest. Employees began traveling to other Pavement locations to discuss events, and to consider how to respond to management’s disregard for workplace conditions.

Concurrently, employees also felt a lack of communication around the progression of reopening. Management gave employees limited notice that the cafés would remove their mask mandate, and did not ask for employee input.

Some Pavement employees turned to workers at SPoT Coffee—a small New York state chain—to learn how those workers successfully unionized last year. After receiving advice, workers formed the Pavement United Organizing Committee and within just two weeks built apparent majority support, then began working with New England Joint Board (NEJB) UNITE HERE, and took their campaign public. 

Mitchell Fallon, Communications & Political Director with NEJB UNITE HERE, gives credit to the self-led efforts of the organizing committee.

“We are reopening into a new paradigm where workers are ready to take back the power that they deserve, and Pavement Coffeehouse workers are leading the way.”

From Recognition To A First Contract

The Pavement Workers Organizing Committee are using a card check procedure to affiliate with NEJB UNITE HERE, which organizes workers in industries including textiles, hospitality, and human services. 

Card check is a method of unionization where employees sign authorization cards and demand employer recognition. This process avoids the arcane and unfavorable mechanisms of the National Labor Relations Board election procedure in favor of building worker power directly. Employers are under no legal obligation to recognize card check.

Card check campaigns often start out with a small organizing committee which works—usually for months or years—to build coworker support for unionization. Secrecy is key to building majority support before the boss can catch on and start organizing to keep the union out. But Pavement workers managed to compress months of organizing into weeks.

Mitchell reminds the public that the union has yet to be recognized and that, as far as the union is concerned, it hasn’t released any information about the number of cards signed so far.

Nonetheless, Mitchell is optimistic about the prospects moving forward. The card counting process will begin soon, but the union is just looking for an independent third party to oversee the card count. 

Assuming victory, NEJB UNITE HERE will reconvene the members of the newly formed bargaining unit to build consensus around tangible economic issues and organizing structure, and begin negotiating a first contract. Mitchell does not expect management to put up a fight during contract negotiations. 

Moving to Boston for school, Angie Muse—a Boston DSA member and Pavement employee—found community in coffee.

“You walk down the street and there’s two cafés on every corner. Having a place where you can study, where you can interact with other people, is part of what makes Boston a welcoming place to live. Cafés are like the backbone of Boston, and they couldn’t run without baristas.”

Angie has been working as a barista at different cafés—including rival Tatte—for two years. They enjoy making latte art and interacting with customers.

“Pavement is doing better than other cafés, but they still do not pay a living wage. Hopefully we will be the blueprint.” Angie has a message for other baristas: we all deserve a living wage. They added that NEJB UNITE HERE has been incredibly helpful and supportive throughout the process.

Boston DSA stands in solidarity with Pavement Coffeehouse employees as they finalize the fight for recognition and transition to the fight for a first contract.

Respect On The Job And A Living Wage

Molly Robertson, an employee at Pavement Coffeehouse and early member of the Pavement United Organizing Committee, pointed to the hypocrisy of management’s messaging around inclusivity while failing to create a welcoming work environment. “The inclusive community is solely cultivated by the workers, not by upper management which is three white men,” they remarked. 

Molly sees a contract as a way to fight for a just work environment. For them, a contract would include mechanisms of accountability for management, efforts to mitigate discrimination, hire more people of color, and enforce inclusive practice, and increased transparency from management.

Angie is excited at the prospect of winning union recognition in a traditionally unorganized industry. “With the collective power that unions bring, that will open up a line of communication with upper management that benefits employees.” 

Employees have been celebrating since the news broke last week, donning red union buttons. “My coworkers make Pavement a good environment to begin with,” Angie remarked. “Going into work this week, it’s an even more happy and fun environment.”

The Importance of Solidarity

The immediate outpouring of support for unionization, with messages of solidarity from Senator Ed Markey, MA-07 Rep. Ayanna Pressley and other local politicians, shows that the community is ready to stand behind Pavement employees. 

“Especially to the working people of DSA, what we stand for can be done!”

Of course, the entire community hopes that Pavement management will do the right thing and sign a fair contract immediately. However, if that is not the case, community support will be crucial to bring pressure to bear on management. Potential forms of support include rallies, informational pickets, and community boycotts. 

On solidarity, Angie had this to say: “Especially to the working people of DSA, what we stand for can be done! Please lend your support by following our social media, sharing our story, and giving encouragement.”

“And come in and grab a coffee,” they added. “They’re good, I promise.”

Pavement Struggle Is A Blueprint

Since the news broke, NEJB UNITE HERE and Pavement United have been receiving interest from other café workers, including from Blue Bottle Coffee, Tatte Bakery & Café, and the Thinking Cup. Mitchell said the workers want to learn about how Pavement workers organized, and are curious about unionizing their own shops. 

Workers at Flour Bakery report receiving a raise of $1.50/hr last week, after news broke about the campaign at Pavement.

A victory for workers at Pavement will serve as an inspiration—and an organizing hub—for café and restaurant workers around the city. Other small, local chains or individual shops in the city seem like logical next targets. Any efforts could then progress to similar chains in the suburbs, including Marylou’s and Pressed Café.

Local chains lack the resources of large corporations to weather strikes or boycotts, while being more financially viable to organize than individual shops. Pavement Coffeehouse itself has 8 locations in Boston and Cambridge, mostly near Northeastern, Harvard, and Boston University. Especially with the current labor shortage, workers at these locations are in a strong position to demand better working conditions.

Organizing larger chains will likely be a tougher battle. Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Café Nero have war chests which empower them to weather any pressure leveraged on them locally. These companies have a lot to lose in allowing Boston to set a precedent for their national workforces. However, the franchise structure of Dunkin’ Donuts may allow for a campaign to target all franchises under one owner, increasing odds of a worker victory.

The impending victory at Pavement will serve as powerful inspiration, but café management across Boston is undoubtedly now deliberating about how to mitigate employee demands for reform. Workers at Pavement and other cafes, NEJB UNITE HERE organizers, and community supporters (including the DSA) should not waste time in aggressively pursuing campaigns for unionization at additional locations. The DSA Labor Working Group stands ready to support all efforts to organize café workers.

Ultimately, the most important factor is the self-initiative of café workers. Union organizers and socialists can provide advice and mobilize community support, but cannot replace organizing among co-workers. Any café worker interested in organizing should reach out to the Restaurant Organizing Project.

The Wind First Shakes The Tops Of The Trees

The unusually rapid developments at Pavement may also be a foreshadowing of a trend which transcends both Pavement and the pandemic. In the historical development of the class struggle, often the consciousness of smaller sections of a class shift prior to the class as a whole; the developments of these sections often anticipate the mode and tempo of class struggle in the next period.

In this case, we have the rapid unionization of a workplace in the student sections of Boston, largely but not exclusively staffed by undergraduates and recent graduates. This is set on a background where—in the last five years—the ideas of socialism and unionism have become widely accepted by the youth, not least because of the appeal of the Sanders campaigns. 

That is to say, the ideas of class struggle and socialism are increasingly permeating the workforce through Millennial and Gen Z employees, laying the kindling for worker organizing so thick that when a spark is lit, the fire spreads with a pace and breadth unknown in decades. It seems that organizers everywhere have something to learn from the Pavement Worker Organizing Committee!

Now the job of the labor movement and the socialist movement is to grab the bellows, and fuel this fire with the oxygen of organizing so that it may spread as a great conflagration, burning up mistreatment and low wages at every café in Boston.

This article originally published on working-mass.com, the blog of Boston DSA’s Labor Working Group. 

green text reads "local food, local labor" with a graphic of a chef slicing meat and some dancing vegetables on either sideThere’s no denying the delightful flavor of an heirloom tomato, but can we convince patrons that food tastes better if it was made by cooks who are paid a living wage? 

There is no real working definition of what “local food” means, but as a concept it’s connected food to American’s consciousness in a way that we had really only seen old hippies vibe with previously. It promotes a way of eating that is allegedly healthy, not just for the Earth, but for the consumer as well. As a movement it’s not without its criticisms, and fraud abounds, but the glow-up is real and the marketing is undeniable: Sustainability is a selling point, but how sustainable is it for the people making the food? 

Farm-to-table restaurants are location specific (the farm, the table) but leave out one key location: the kitchen. Labor can go unnoticed because of physical limitations (can’t see the kitchen, farm is far away) ergo the consumer doesn’t have to (pretend to) care. But as more and more lay people have become aware of the brutal working conditions, low wages, non-existent benefits, and lack of respect inherent to the restaurant (and farming) industry, an opportunity presents itself, as lush and fragrant as a perfectly ripe peach. 

While the push for local food still puts the onus on the consumer to solve the problem of climate change, perhaps this has primed restaurant patrons to start paying attention to how the people who pick, prepare and serve their meals are treated. We want to know where our food comes from, so the leap to asking who makes their food and how much they’re paid and treated isn’t such a big step. As easy as it is to mock the pretension of a patron that demands local food, and as ridiculous as it might sound now, imagine if consumers would say “Oh, that restaurant? No, sorry, I only eat at places that pay a living wage.” 

It will take a while to get to that point. However, the local food movement didn’t just spring up in Brooklyn in the early 2000’s. In the U.S. local food as a novel concept can be traced from legislation in the ‘30s, an increase in factory-produced food in the ‘40s and ‘50s and the subsequent back-to-the-land hippies in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the creation of nonprofits dedicated to local food and then consumer demand for restaurants serving local food in the ‘90s, and has only continued to grow thereafter. In America, local food sales were worth $1.2 billion in 2007, which more than doubled from $551 million in 1997. The movement didn’t happen overnight, and it has run the gamut from sidelong glance to full-on embrace to toss-off punchline.

Consumers are humans, and want to feel good about their choices, especially when making decisions regarding food. This is why we schlep to the farmer’s market and it’s why larger corporations have pledged millions of dollars in supporting smaller local farms; something in the idea of eating locally has connected with consumers (and their spending habits) on a gut level. Now that they are thinking about where their food came from, we can get them thinking about who made it. 

How can we communicate the feel-good glow of what universal healthcare would mean for restaurant workers? Beyond the not-so-radical idea that healthcare is a human right, if we had universal healthcare, we would see a reduction in many chronic, non-communicable diseases; this would be a more accurate gauge of how healthy we are as a society, rather than how far away our vegetables were grown. 

How do we push sustainability as a holistic concept, not just for the soil and water, but for the people tending, harvesting and reaping as well? Working ten-to-twelve hour days for minimum wage is not sustainable. This is how we get cooks with burns up and down their arms, angry servers, and chronically ill dishwashers. It is also how you end up with a shitty restaurant, and the guest can taste the bitterness of the staff. 

If we start to think externally, by getting the general public to not just to become aware of labor issues in restaurants, as they have over the past year, but to continue to care, we can ensure our success in transforming the industry. It’s up to us as workers to speak up and advocate for ourselves and our co-workers within the restaurant so we can paint the picture we want to see for the patrons. 

When we imagine a small, local farm, maybe we think of an idyllic image of a kindly farmer, smiling with their family as they harvest an abundance of heirloom crops. Those crops travel a short distance to the chic farm-to-table restaurant, serving salads bursting with colorful freshness, meat from animals that have been lovingly cared for, desserts encapsulating the most pristine examples of the season. 

We don’t have that same reverie for the cooks that prepare the food – yet 

We can create that vision, and much like a farmer maintains their field, preserve it so we can reap the fruits of our labor. 

a dark green background with text reading "local food local labor" with an image of a chef slicing meat and dancing vegetables

a field of pink and blue flowers in the background, black text reads "my experience transitioning as a restaurant worker by callie june simon"I began my transition from male to female a few months before my 32 birthday, after spending nearly half my life working in the restaurant industry. I say nearly because I made several attempts to get out of the industry for good, but found I wasn’t cut out for factory or office work. I eventually came to the conclusion I don’t like being exploited for my labor. 

Despite the long hours, intense stress, low pay, filthy working conditions, toxic masculinity and queerphobia that was all too common in my experience, I spent many years working in kitchens; I wanted to become a chef, a dream inspired by Anthony Bourdain. By age 28, I had made the move to front-of-house, where the days were still long and stressful, but at least I made a lot more money and had a little more control over my schedule. 

In many ways work was a distraction from my gender dysphoria, although it was always there in the back of my mind. I worried whether it would be possible to transition in the industry. For most of my life it didn’t seem possible to transition at all, but in 2016 I was living in Louisville, Ky.; I was in therapy and out to my partner, friends and even some family members. As it became clear Donald Trump would be elected president, I decided to postpone my transition, which led to a dependency on alcohol, an all-too-common coping mechanism for restaurant workers.  

Briefly, in 2018, I lived in rural Illinois, where I was on Medicaid. Planned Parenthood of Illinois provides gender-affirming hormone therapy on an informed consent model, so I was able to finally begin my transition without any financial barriers or gatekeeping by medical professionals. I booked an appointment and after a short waiting period, I was filling my hormone prescription at the local pharmacy.

However, the relationship I was in ended suddenly and I found myself broke and on the verge of homelessness. My brother offered to let me stay with him in our hometown in Indiana, and I got a job as a line cook at a local brewpub. Despite having worked as a server and bartender for four years prior to beginning my transition, I didn’t yet feel confident enough in my gender presentation as a trans woman to work a front-of-house position. I was treated with respect by nearly every one of my coworkers, many of whom were queer themselves, and I became close friends with a few of them. This gave me the confidence to make the move to front-of-house. I was occasionally misgendered by customers but it was mostly a positive experience. 

Like any woman working as a server I dealt with my share of sexual harassment, but I experienced few instances of explicitly transphobic abuse. Anonymous threats of violence were levied against me over the internet, but they ultimately proved to be empty. One regular in particular made it very clear he fetishized trans women; he tipped well, but serving him wasn’t worth the harassment and dehumanization I felt. There was a running joke about him among the staff and management, but nothing was ever done to address his behavior.

After nearly a year at the brewpub I moved back to Louisville. Despite the Louisville Fairness Ordinance – which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations – I believe I was discriminated against in my search for employment. After two months I had submitted my resume to nearly a hundred different restaurants and bars in Louisville and interviewed at over a quarter of those. During one interview, I was offered a position in the kitchen but not the bartender position for which I had applied. Although I was eventually hired as a server at a restaurant, it quickly became clear to me that moving back to Louisville was a mistake.

Every time I visited my hometown I made sure to stop in at the brewpub, and each time the owner told me he would rehire me. I moved back a little more than two weeks before restaurants were shut down due to COVID-19. We reopened to the public only six weeks later.

Many of my former coworkers didn’t come back or had moved on to other jobs.  My boss was increasingly agitated as the business had already been struggling before the pandemic. In many ways he consistently put the business over the health and safety of his staff, his customers and the community at large. What was once a supportive work environment turned sour very quickly.

I was once forced to serve a man with a swastika tattoo; when I brought it up to management, their response was to publicly claim “WE DO NOT DISCRIMINATE AGAINST ANYONE.” Yet I regularly experienced instances of transphobia from customers, co-workers and management. To create a work environment that truly does not discriminate against anyone, workers must speak up against all forms of hate speech in the workplace.

It should go without saying that being misgendered can be traumatic, so when a new hire saw my name on the schedule and asked if I was a “man, woman or cat,” and the owner responded “all of the above,” I felt othered, and outed to someone I hadn’t met. Although the owner had always used my correct pronouns, that incident made me feel as if he never actually saw me as a woman. 

Speaking of misgendering, break the habit of using gendered language when casually referring to each other. “Man,” “dude” and “guy” are all clearly gendered terms. Many have argued they are used in a way that’s gender neutral, but even then such usage centers men as the default. Their usage often makes cis and trans women, as well as some non binary people, uncomfortable.

If someone says you’ve made them uncomfortable, it’s up to you to recognize the harm you’ve caused. An apology, a promise to do better and following through on that promise will go a long way in making a workplace inclusive.

Likewise, it helps to be aware of the ways in which your co-workers may be vulnerable. Significant disparities exist for marginalized people in every aspect of our lives, and we are often victims of discrimination and violence. For example, trans people are routinely denied access to homeless shelters due to their gender identity or housed with a gender with which they don’t belong, a policy endorsed by the Trump Administration.

During the last few months of my employment, my hours were cut considerably and the shifts I was scheduled to work were often those that made very little money. I confronted the owner about it. I told him I was struggling to make ends meet and that I was behind on rent. He responded that I was lucky to only be worried about paying my rent, as if keeping the business afloat was more important than keeping a roof over my head. I felt that this implied that I was somehow more privileged than an upper-middle class, cis, heterosexual business owner. When I expressed my frustration to a co-worker, she was offended by the implication that I was the most vulnerable person on the staff due to my gender identity. 

I was fired shortly after confronting the owner. The official reason given was that I violated the attendance policy. During my employment, there was never any disciplinary action taken against me for my attendance or any other reason. However, I was still denied unemployment. I immediately appealed the decision on March 30 2021, but I’ve yet to receive a date for my hearing. 

In conclusion, the owning class, no matter how progressive they may portray themselves, will always put class interests before the well-being of the workers. Likewise, they will always seek to punish those who stand up against them. A positive environment for all employees can be fostered by the staff but it must be maintained; reactionary ideas must actively be pushed back against and not allowed to take root. 

An overflowing green recycling bin is full of vegetables. to the right, on a dark green background it says in blue text "one man's trash could be another man's treasure by imogen iverson". beneath it, a banana peel is splayed out. Let’s talk about food waste in America. Per a 2014 study from the United States Department of Agriculture, one in seven Americans (49.1 million out of 318.9 million people) suffer from food insecurity with communities of color more likely to be negatively impacted.  In the United States alone, 40% of food is discarded each year. The restaurant industry isn’t entirely to blame for the amount of food wasted— that number includes households, grocery stores, and farms. This amount of food could serve 58,064,516,129 meals (per the national average amount spent on a meal being $2.79). Considering those numbers and that America is regarded as the wealthiest country in the world, food insecurity should not be among the issues we face. 

Food waste can generally be divided into two categories: pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste. 

Pre-consumer waste is defined as the food waste that is discarded by those handling the food before it is sold to a customer. Beginning with produce tossed out by farmers for not being aesthetically pleasing, to a purveyor being unable to sell product to restaurant before its (arbitrary) expiration date, or refrigerator trucks failing in temperature control, leaving product unusable— and that’s all before it’s stored on restaurant shelves awaiting preparation. 

Once the restaurant is in possession of the food, other factors come into play: trim waste from meat and produce, spoilage, contaminated items, overproduction, or even food that is not prepared properly by untrained staff. While some factors are inevitable, others are completely avoidable and within the control of food handlers. Even a misshapen apple can be repurposed into applesauce or a smoothie, right?

Post-Consumer waste is defined as food that has been discarded after the food has been sold or served to the guest. What you are able to do with leftover food at this point depends greatly on the style of kitchen you have. If the majority of your food sales are from made-to-order dishes, then the fate of the post-consumer waste is up to the guest: if they would like to take their food home or leave it to be discarded. In the case of buffet-style service,for catering or larger quantities, the opportunity for repurposing grows exponentially. Bakeries or coffee shops that fill their display cases with freshly baked breads, cakes, and donuts, likely cannot save the food to sell to paying customers the next day, but that doesn’t mean the only option is the trash bin. 

Some kitchens are able to easily repurpose food for their own uses such as family meal, a soup of the day, stale bread ground up for bread crumbs and so on. Chefs are inherently creative individuals who constantly have one eye on their budget and are quick to spot items that need to be used up before they are out of date. At some point, I think that every prep cook has had a chef drop a Cambro off on their station and ask them to use the last of its contents in whatever they were preparing that day.

But some kitchens are not set up to be able to repurpose the food they are left with after a given shift. So, what then becomes of those leftovers? More often than not, they end up in the trash can or down a garbage disposal rather than being donated or even sent home with the employees at the end of the night. 

Food donation to those in need seems like the most logical, moral step to combating both food waste and food insecurity within the country. 

So why don’t more restaurants donate food?

Some are worried about being sued if the food makes someone sick, some are worried about employees purposely overproducing food to donate, and some—usually the small businesses—simply do not have the resources it would take to get the food to an organization for distribution. Packaging, controlling time and temperature, and transportation are all things that require labor and resources, all of which most kitchens are sorely lacking even before the “labor shortage”

While some of these reasons pose real restrictions, others do lack validity in their concern. 

There is actually no public record of a restaurant being sued or having to pay damages for food donation. What??? That’s right! The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed in 1996 and protects restaurants from the risk of legal action so long as the food was donated in good faith. 

The Fighting Hunger Incentive Act of 2014 was introduced and would have provided incentivized tax deductions for businesses that donated food to charitable organizations. Unfortunately, the bill did not become public law and the motion to reconsider it at a later time was laid on the table and agreed to without objection. If the bill had made it to public law it would have opened up so many more opportunities for restaurants to easily donate unused product and maybe we could have made more sustainable progress before the pandemic hit. However, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in March 2020 and does offer tax breaks for charitable food donations as the current public law

In 2016, France passed a law banning grocery stores from throwing away food that could be donated for use and requiring systems be in place to distribute said food. Do you want Freedom Fries with that?

While we don’t currently have any laws like that in place here, we already have some systems in place such as the Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, No Us Without You LA, and Food Donation Connection, to name a few. Some organizations like these exist. There are so many more ways to get food into the hands of those in need that are going to be unique to the many different types of food service establishments that exist. 

It’s important to organize in your restaurant and find out what can be done to get food to those who need it most, from families  to unhoused people, and even those who prepare and serve the food. 

It’s no secret today that the wages for cooks and servers are less than what the cost of living demands at this point and it’s not uncommon for restaurant workers to experience food insecurity of their own, even while being surrounded by food on a daily basis. 

The pandemic has become a catalyst for transformation inmany ways and the restaurant industry is on the tipping point of some real, sustainable changes. Restaurants shouldn’t go back to “normal” because normal wasn’t working for us even before the pandemic. Livable wages, healthcare for all, better hours, and PTO are a few demands (rightfully so) of restaurant workers these days but, shouldn’t eliminating food waste be among them? 

Many chefs enter the industry because they enjoy cooking for others and feeding people. In my experience that is not specific to just a paying customer, it extends to family and friends as well. So shouldn’t it extend to those who are in need? As kitchens reopen, it’s time we put the pressure on restaurants to make a plan, find or create places to donate, implement better practices that will push us closer to eliminating food waste and ensuring everyone has fair and dignified access to food. 

How do you like them un-aesthetically pleasing, misshapen apples?

Restaurants and bars were flash points for the LGBTQ+ protest and uprising

Private businesses open to the public have a long history as flash points for civil rights movements. 

Before the popular actions of the LGBTQ liberation movement in the late 1960’s onward, city, county, and state police across the United States used liquor laws, which prohibited establishments “injurious to public morals,” as a pretext to raid bars where gay people would meet. 

McCarthyite officials in the ‘50s added an almost obsessive zeal to these raiding programs, vowing to reveal the identities of homosexuals who were considered a “threat” to national and local security in a period historians now call the “Lavender Scare.” 

“It’s an easy target. It’s a vulnerable target. They make their names on our backs,” Dave Hayward, an LGBTQ historian, said. “It’s not about morality, it’s about money.”

Police agencies sought to entrap LGBTQ people across the country and punish them under anti-sodomy laws, or laws against “lascivious acts.” 

Richard Rhodes, a gay activist, Navy veteran, and Georgia political figure, was forced to escape from Florida after being ratted out to investigators of the state’s anti-gay John’s Commission, according to Hayward. 

Rhodes fled to upstate New York in the 1950’s, and didn’t tell his family for years because, “they were law abiding citizens,” and would tell the police, Hayward said. 

Diamond Lil, an iconic Atlanta drag performer, was discharged from the National Guard, and after numerous arrests for her performances for sailors docked at the city’s harbor, “was literally run out of Savannah,” Hayward said. 

The violent, anti-gay policing made gay people around the United States into refugees. 

“When you talk to other minority groups, they talk about being shit upon when they leave the community, but they get to return to the community,” Hayward said.  “Gay people couldn’t do that.”

Often gay people would end up in bigger cities like Los Angeles, San Fransisco, New York City Chicago, Washington D.C., and Atlanta where they could live more under the radar of surveillance. 

Groups like the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) formed, at first in secret, to try to negotiate with people in powerful positions to stop the practice of discrimination based on sexual orientation, but activists opted for a public approach after progress proved slow. 

The riot that was sparked by a 1969 police raid on The Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood has received much public attention in recent years, but historians have cataloged numerous other consumer demonstrations that have faded from public memory. 

Marc Stein, a historian and professor at San Francisco State University, said participants in the Black civil rights movement often targeted restaurants, bars, and similar businesses for direct actions.

“I see LGBTQ protests coming out of the same tradition,” Stein said. “They knew about African American protests.. and were inspired by them.”

Black, lesbian activist Ernestine Extine had even been trained by members the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and participated in direct actions while in college in Indiana in the early 1960s.

One of the earliest queer consumer demonstrations was a series of sit-ins at Dewey’s Lunch Counter in Philadelphia in 1965.

Dewey’s was “not fancy, not expensive,” Stein said. “It was a place to get warm and have coffee, grab a quick bite,” which made the location near the Gay Village a popular hangout for younger LGBTQ people. 

The store management put a ban on, “homosexuals, masculine women, feminine men, and people wearing nonconformist clothing,” and had denied about 150 people service. 

Three people, two men and one woman, according to Stein, staged a sit in and were arrested, along with Clark Polak, who had offered to get the three a lawyer as they were dragged out of the restaurant by police. 

Polak, a member of The Janus Society, was, “one of the most militant gay activists of the era,” Stein said, and helpped the demonstrators organize a picket outside Dewey’s that soon led to the reversal of the policy against LGBTQ people. 

In April of 1966, Mattachine Society member Dick Lietsch organized a “Sip-in” in New York City, in which he intended to get denied service as a homosexual in order to challege a local liquor ordinance in court. 

Leitsch and other members were followed by reporters from The New York Times and The Village Voice who recorded the scene when Leitsch announced “we are homosexuals” to the bartender at Julius, a bar in Greewich Village. 

In August of 1966 there was a “simmering conflict” between customers and management at a Gene Compton’s Cafeteria location in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, a well-known “red light district,” according to historian and professor Susan Stryker. 

“Gene Compton’s was a really popular local chain of 24/7, always open eateries,” Stryker said.  “I think of them as clean, well-lit, places to get cheap food anytime of the day.”

The location at the corner of Turk and Taylor was a popular hangout for Trans folks, queer street kids, and people looking to party or buy drugs in the neighborhood. 

“It had these big, plate-glass windows, and you could look out and see what was going on,” Stryker said. “Transwomen would go there and keep an eye on the street, show off a new boyfriend, or wear a new outfit, or bring their trick there for breakfast in the morning after.” 

When the newer managers of the store hired security guards, and implemented a service charge to enter the restaurant, neighborhood locals organized a picket outside the restaurant. 

According to Stryker:

“In the middle of this sort of escalating conflict, [the] San Francisco Police Department made a street sweep. They were just going out and rounding up people on the streets who they were, charging with so-called nuisance crimes. They came into Compton’s, and tried to arrest some of the trans-feminine people who were there and who really had nowhere else to go. One of the Queens, as they were described at the time …said, like, hell no, and threw her cup of coffee in the face of the cop who was trying to arrest her. Everything just blew up. The patrons started throwing trays and knives and forks and plates and cups at the cops, driving them back out onto the streets. They took the sugar shakers off the table, and threw them through the plate glass windows. I think about 165 people in that room just kind of boiling out onto the streets. The police called on reinforcements. People in the neighborhood started swarming the corner at the intersection of Turk and Taylor. There was fighting all up and down the streets. The police vans pulled up. Cops are cracking people’s heads. The Queen’s are taking off their stiletto heeled shoes and their purses loaded down with bricks and whatever and fighting back against the cops who were fighting them.”

A wave of LGBTQ activism followed the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, including a “sweep-in” neighborhood clean-up organized by a local group, Vanguard, and push to get medical support services for trans people. 

Demonstrations following the Compton’s uprising often focused on bars and clubs which had become important spaces for LGBTQ people who had few alternatives for “out” gathering spaces. 

“When you compare the gay rights movement to the [Black] civil rights movement, the bars are our churches,” Hayward said. “Bars are our ground zero. That’s where we organized.”

A raid on New Year’s Eve 1966 of The Black Cat, a bar in the Silver Lake neighborhood in Los Angeles, in which police beat and arrested LGBTQ people for kissing, prompted a 200 person protest in 1967 organized by Personal Rights in Defense and Education (PRIDE)

Later that year, Los Angeles police raided a performance by Sir Lady Java at the Redd Foxx club, which inspired a picket outside the club (seemingly with the blessing of Foxx himself), and a case that was eventually rejected by the court.

It wasn’t until the Stonewall Riot that the movement would gain broad national attention, inspiring a wave of national activism into the ‘70s and beyond. 

In 1970, students in Chicago protested a city ordinance against same-sex dancing by organizing a 2,000 person dance at the Chicago Coliseum, that sprouted a picket outside The Normandy Inn a few days later. 

Hayward, while at school at Georgetown, was part of a picket outside the Lost and Found club in Washington D.C. in protest of the club’s discrimination against Black people and lesbians in 1971. 

An anti-gay raid on the Ansley Park Mini-Cinema in Atlanta led to the organization of the city’s first gay pride march. 

The march was denied a parade permit (the Georgia chapter of the ACLU refused to help organizers secure one), and forced to march on the sidewalk, stopping at traffic lights along the whole route. 

“I have the distinction of being ejected from the Sweet Gum Head and the Cove bar in 1972, for leafleting about Atlanta Gay Pride,” Hayward said in an email. 

It’s unclear how often service workers played a supportive role in these consumer demonstrations. 

With some notable exceptions, like the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union, the labor movement was largely anemic to supporting LGBTQ causes before the 1970s. 

“A lot of times there’s a more intense prejudice among blue collar people,” Hayward said.  “That’s always been a real challenge in allying with the labor movement.”

Stryker said a night manager at Compton’s was a gay man that would let some of the late-hour shenanigans at the restaurant slide, but had passed away before May of 1966. 

The lack of support from workers may have been a factor in sparking the uprising that followed.

Foxx was clearly at least a tacit supporter of drag/trans entertainers, as he was open to being photographed in Jet Magazine in support of Sir Lady Java. 

The owner of the Ansley Park Mini-Cinema, George Ellis, was also a supporter of entertainment for the gay community, as the theater was often raided for showing films like I Am Curious Yellow and I Am Curious Blue which “had full frontal male nudity,” Hayward said. 

“[Ellis] was an ally before we had any allies at all,” Hayward said. 

In general, though, there was a lack of solidarity between the labor movement and the LGBTQ liberation movement, just as there was with the Black liberation movement. 

In many ways the lack of interplay allowed all three movements to be co-opted by the United States’s broader capitalist, imperialist project. 

“Things that start as resistance I think get folded into existing relations of power, precisely to the extent that they fail to critique the sort of deeper levels of power. It’s kind of like, can we make prisons better, rather than can we abolish prisons. Can we have our own neighborhood rather than have liberation for everyone,” Stryker said. “It’s the problem of liberal complicity rather than radical resistance, or truly envisioning what transformational social justice would entail.”

McDonald’s workers say OSHA needs to overhaul investigations  and punishments to be effective

by Jason Flynn

Adriana Alvarez has worked at McDonald’s for 18 years, and despite the consistently poor working conditions had avoided filing any sort of official complaint for fear of drawing unwanted reprisals from her bosses. 

workers and supporters hold signs that say "WAGE THEFT NOT LOVIN' IT" and "VALEMOS MAS #LUCHAPOR15"
Workers and supporters protest a wage theft at a McDonalds store at 2827 S Cicero Ave, Cicero, Ill.

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country, and McDonald’s refused to close its doors in the face of a global public health catastrophe, she decided she couldn’t stay quiet anymore. 

We didn’t have masks, we didn’t have sanitation stations, or even really soap to wash our hands. We weren’t being told to maintain social distancing,” Alvarez told me, speaking through an interpreter.

Alvarez filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), hoping the oversight agency would pressure the store into making changes or take McDonald’s to task for its negligence. 

Nothing happened, at first, and Alvarez caught COVID while working at McDonald’s. 

The manager never informed her, or any other workers, that employees at the store had caught the virus. She had to find out from other employees.

Alvarez said at least six other people at her store also got sick, and many, like Kenia Campeano, ended up bringing it home to their families. 

“One of the managers got sick, spread it to her dad, and he ended up passing away,” Alvarez said. 

Alvarez and Campeano both work at a McDonald’s on the south side of Chicago in Gage Park, a neighborhood between Midway Airport and Englewood. 

That part of the city, where a much higher percentage of low-income and families of color reside, experienced disproportionate deaths from the virus.

Vaccine distribution is lagging in the neighborhood despite the higher rate of mortality. 

from @chivaxbot on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChiVaxBot
from @chivaxbot on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChiVaxBot

OSHA received over 2,600 COVID-19 related complaints from restaurants and eating places since they began keeping track in February of 2020 according to the most recent public report of closed cases. 

Complaints to the oversight agency from the food service industry aren’t very common. 

It keeps track of over 600,000 eating establishments, and amid a global pandemic OSHA noted complaints from less than a half percent of those. 

That doesn’t mean those restaurants don’t have health and safety issues. 

Rather, workers are unwilling or unable to file a report because they don’t know how best to get in touch, they don’t know how to navigate the web of state versus federal oversight agencies, they need assistance filling out the forms for accuracy or language barrier, or they’re afraid of retribution from an employer. 

Alvarez and Campeano said they wouldn’t have been able to file their complaints on their own without help from Fight for 15 campaign organizers. 

The majority of COVID-related complaints came from national and regional chains, though one in particular, McDonald’s, stands out far and away from the rest. 

The fast food behemoth has one hundred more complaints than the next closest offender, and about as many complaints as the next four chains combined, which includes Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Subway. 

“McDonald’s as company is really a big reason for that, because a lot of vulnerable workers go to work at McDonald’s, specifically undocumented workers go to McDonald’s because they’ll get hired no questions asked,” Campeano said. “McDonald’s, at the end of the day, doesn’t care about the quality, they care about the quantity, right, so many of those workers are then exploited.”

As of May 11 2021, OSHA issued penalties of just over $145,000 to food and agriculture companies, according to Civil Eats.

On top of that, workers say changes made are often temporary, or just for show, as restaurants are often informed ahead of time they’ll be inspected, and many are never inspected in person. 

“[They’re] making it easier for the corporation to get away with what they’re doing,” Campeano said. 

It was only after an OSHA representative visited their McDonald’s store in person that Campeano and Alvarez got access to the most basic of necessities. 

That visit was coupled with more than twenty complaints from McDonald’s stores around the city, and national pressure from the Fight for 15 organizing campaign assisted by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). 

A McDonald's worker holds up a blue hat with the McDonald's logo and Fight for $15 organizer in a neon yellow vest knocks on the glass drive-thru window of a McDonald's store in Cicero, Ill. An on the clock employee in an orange shirt and mask watches with arms crossed.
A protesting McDonald’s worker and Fight for $15 organizer attempt to confront a store manager at the drive-thru window of a McDonald’s store in Cicero, Ill. as an on-the-clock employee looks on.

Yet, the complaints only led to limited concessions and little repercussion.

“A big piece of the puzzle is making sure that the consequences for employers that don’t follow the guidance are sizable. If you evaluate a fine and determine that the fine literally costs less than the protective equipment, well then you’ve got a pretty blunt tool to accomplish what you need to do,” said Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns for the United Farm Workers (UFW), based in California.

McDonald’s stores faced few-to-no consequences. 

They raked in cash while their employees and employees’ families struggled with illness.

“My store, I know, made more than $300,000 in during the worst of the pandemic, and they kept making money,” Campeano said. “Despite making all the money they were making, they still did not offer to pay quarantine pay for workers, forcing a lot of workers to go to work sick, and make the problem even worse.”

Alvarez said that while she was happy to speak out against the company she didn’t do so without consequences. 

“I got a day cut from my schedule, and people did end up judging me and saying ‘well, look at that, they cut a day from your schedule for speaking up,’” Alvarez said. “My response to them has always been if I hadn’t spoken up and done something there wouldn’t be any changes here. We wouldn’t have our masks. We wouldn’t have soap and sanitation stations, and more people would just be getting sick.”

If OSHA is going be effective, workers say, at bare minimum it needs to stop doing announced workplace inspections. 

Workers also say OSHA needs to be conducting pre-interviews with workers that made the complaints to clarify and understand the full extent of problems.

But, fixing OSHA won’t correct all of the issues with McDonald’s or the restaurant industry as a whole. 

A representative for the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign gives a speech during a protest outside a McDonald’s store in Cicero, Ill.

“We need all the support that we can get from different organizations, other workers. Like go out with us when we do protests and marches, join us, because we can’t live in fear of our hours being cut or retaliation or any type of pushback,” Alvarez said.  “We just need to join together.”