Honor “The Navajo Way”

Not Columbus’ “Discovery”

About a month ago, I was given the honor of co-teaching a class at the University of Pennsylvania as a guest lecturer of Andy Lamas Ph.D. and with Anthony Montiero, Ph.D.

The class, on “Liberation and Ownership” is an exciting look at the concepts of racial, gender identity, and class through a critical and radical lens. It is a profound experience to teach and learn in the shadows of these two brilliant scholars.

A few weeks back, Dr. Lamas asked me to share a story about my Navajo grandparents as a lead-in to a guest lecture by Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz who just published the The Indigenous People’s History of the United States.”

Check out the book trailer here-


I rarely talk about this part of my life, and it was not easy to do.

However, as Dr. Dubar-Ortiz declares, in order to transform our society into a more just one, a society that lives up to the values that we claim, we have to dispel the lies that we have all comfortably accepted.

Acknowledging that our nation was built on slavery, genocide, and land theft makes many people – specifically many white people – uncomfortable. It also makes many non-white people uncomfortable.

It makes me uncomfortable.

One dismisses these perspectives as “revisionist history,” as if all histories must not be “revised” when new information is gathered.

I get no righteous joy out of the fact that my indigenous roots, family, and culture have almost vanished from the earth.

In class, I shared the following remembrance of my Grandma and Grandpa. I share it with you as well, my reader, on this Columbus Day, not to honor one man’s “discovery,” but to honor my ancestors and the historic resistance of a people.

The Navajo Way

When I was a kid, we would occasionally visit my grandmother and grandfather on the reservation. I remember driving for hours and hours through dusty desert. My brother David and I would be playing games with my mom, hanging over the front seat of the Ford Granada as we traveled for miles and laughed while my dad drove in silence.

We would arrive in the tiny village of Greasewood, Arizona, usually at dusk. We lived in Grants, New Mexico, which was also a small town that now, somehow, seemed huge in comparison. Greasewood claimed perhaps a couple hundred people. It may as well have been on another planet.

Once the sun had set, the desert would turn freezing cold. The sky would explode with a million stars and the village would be almost completely dark and silent.

You could hear a distant neighbor’s TV from blocks away.

In Grants, due to the abundance of street lights and video games, my brother and I could keep playing with friends often until 9 pm if our parents let us, which they often did, since most of the families on my block knew each other.

In Greasewood, though, it was dark and quiet and the children were all indoors.

At the foot of the bed where my parents slept, my brother and I shivered in sleeping bags, scared to death by the sound of coyotes howling somewhere off in the distance.

During the days, though, we would run around and play with other kids. The whole desert was our playground. We would run from house to house with a pack of little boys and girls, our light brown faces smiled among the Navajo kids with straight black hair and rich brown complexions.

The town was small and strange. It was like an outpost only partially completed. I recall many houses that lacked windows and doors. Navajo rugs hung by nails over door frames.

Unlike back in Grants, we didn’t have Nintendos to play with out there. Instead we chased lambs around, sometimes straight though a family’s home, dozens of us storming past the blankets in the front and out the open back door, hopping over piles of fire wood, all of us screaming and laughing.

My Grandmother Elizabeth and Grandpa Mercede were as strange to me as this town in the middle of nowhere.

They would talk to each other in Diné, their native language that sounds swishy and like the words bounce off the back of their throats.

Grandma was always boisterous with a huge laugh. My mother was like her, always playing mischievous games with the world. They would laugh at each other, and at punch-lines that no one else could understand. Grandma was what my 7 Indian aunts used to call “Res to the max.” They would laugh (lovingly) behind her back.

My aunts were city Navajos who lived in Albuquerque. I would think of their words when we would visit. I wasn’t sure what they meant by the slight they muttered, just that it was some sort of joke about my grandparents.

Grandma was very traditional. She wore 3 or 4 layers of Navajo dresses. They were beautiful, rich blues, and reds, a velvet dress on top of a satin one, on top of royal velvet cascades of fabric. She wrapped her wrists in silver and turquoise. She had a belt of leather, beads of bone and coral. Grandma’s thick, black braid went all the way down her back.

Grandpa was quiet. He didn’t speak much English. He always wore a black Stetson Cowboy hat and a thick leather belt with a big silver and turquoise buckle. Grandpa was skinny and bowlegged. He used to put us on his knee and bounce us up and down. He would have us pretend that we were riding a pony.

After a few days we would go back to Grants. I would smell like mutton, the greasy meat of the full grown sheep, for days after we returned.

We wouldn’t hear from my grandparents after we came back. They had no phone and the rare phone call from them from a gas station pay phone usually signaled bad things.

But once in a while, every summer or two, they would…just appear.

I remember how exciting it was to wake up and find their black and silver Ford F-150 parked in front of our house.

I remember my father waking me up and telling me to go and wake up my grandparents.

David and I would run out and open up the camper shell on the truck to find them sleeping in the back of the pickup, on top of layer and layers of blankets, holding each other in the cold New Mexico mornings.

One time, David and I opened the camper to find Grandma cuddling a small lamb. The young ewe woke before she did, swinging up her furry little head before my grandmother moved to the joyful shrieks of my brother and me.

We played with the little creature for a few days before Dad and Grandpa strung her up by her back legs on the clothesline post and slit her throat.

I was saddened by the slaughter, but I had also been taught that it was natural. Grandma prayed and thanked the small sheep, thanking her for her life and her sacrifice. She burned sage and rubbed the smoke into the ewe’s wool, calming her before her death.

Later, when it was time to go, my parents enacted the faux drama of begging them to stay inside with for us for a few days.

Grandma would always claim that they were on their way somewhere else to visit one of our other relations somewhere in the sprawling desert or in the city.

Nevertheless, they would always move inside with us and stay for a few days, until they ultimately departed.

My Grandma’s ways were a mystery to me.

She called her wanderings: “going the Navajo way.”

In hindsight, 30 years later, I realize it was probably because she and my grandfather were suffering hard times.

When they got low on food or money, they would take their last resources and head out on the road, boarding with us, my aunts and uncles, or with some friends off in the distance, real or invented.

Nonetheless, in her mind, my grandmother was doing as our ancestors had for thousands of years before: moving, following the resources as the seasons changed and fortunes went dim.

Whether she was chasing the herds, free beneath the bright blue skies, or whether she and Grandpa were running from poverty and hunger with their belongings tied up in shopping bags, eating cold vegetables out of tin cans, is a difference that now pains me to distinguish.

They would stay for just a few days.

Grandma. in her other-worldly ways, would wake up before the dawn and wander the alleyways of our town picking up junk. She would erect a pile of little things that she hoped to sell in a corner of our backyard: hubcaps, aluminum cans, bottles that she thought looked pretty or useful.

Then, one day, we would wake up and she would be gone.

Disappeared. Kind of like the Navajo to most of us today.

She lived the Navajo way.

In our modern context, that means that she lived on “The Res.” One with her people, strong in her traditions, but in utter poverty.

Or, she would wander, feeling a connection to our ancestors, an alien in the white man’s world, out of context. Living in spiritual death.

The same dilemma for what is left of traditional indigenous people this nation.

Still, I look back and admire that she had within her, to her last breath, the desire to resist. to exist outside of the place that our society had prescribed for her.

She could not be held back by the parcels. She would not be forgotten. She wandered freely.

Looking back, I learned from her that I should never be proscribed a role or resigned to disappear. I stand with others who refuse to be ignored. “Columbus Day” is a day to condemn the dehumanization of other people. It is a day to celebrate those who demand freedom and a dignified life.

To me, this is the true meaning of this day.

WATCH: John Oliver Asks, “Columbus Day, How Is That Still A Thing?”



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Yesterday, I attended a meeting in North Philadelphia in which community leaders expressed their desperate desire to intervene in the recent rash of violence in the region.

It was a sad meeting.  It was clear that the ministers that were leading it sincerely wanted to stop the gun violence.  The community is in pain.  It has been for a while.  Decades of neglect and under-investment are now only acknowledged when women, children or an innocent, pregnant woman are caught in the crossfire.

The meeting was filled with rage and frustration.

Though I don’t doubt that the intentions of the conveners, I left feeling more frustrated than when I arrived.

The ministers that ran the meeting made it clear that we were not there to debate what was to be done.  We were there to plan a march and a cook-out as a means to discourage the drug dealers in the community to stop killing other people.

I am not trying to make fun of these leaders.  Of course I understand that no one at the meeting thought that the march itself, which is to take place on October 4th at 12 noon starting at Germantown and Allegheny, is not going to stop the violence.  Our hosts did say that this was the first step and that the real work will take place after that march.  The march is supposed to bring people together and then after that, we will figure out what would come next.

Nonetheless, I left feeling tense about the main suggestion that did come forward- the Gun Buy Back scheme.

I have heard of these programs and I have always thought that they sounded nonsensical.


If you had to use a gun to protect your “turf” or to kill your competition (as drug dealers apparently do), and that is how this trade works, why would you ever swap your gun for a bag of groceries?  The gun is probably worth more in cash to other drug dealers than the grocerys you would be swapping them for.

Other city’s that have conducted these have found that most of the guns that were turned in were already non-operational.

I offer you this illustrative example; in my neighborhood we have a problem with illegal scrapers.  These thieves break into empty houses and steal all of the pipes and wiring and sell them for scrap.  Does it make sense to offer to buy all of their hammers and crowbars?

I don’t mean to over simplify the problem of gun violence either.  Violence is extremely complicated and I wouldn’t even pretend to offer solutions.  I don’t understand it.  I would never use violence and don’t know any one who would.

However, it feels instinctive to me to at least look at the fact that North Philadelphia lacks dignified labor as a major problem.  From this problem many bad symptoms arise from drug and substance abuse, prostitution, drug dealing, illegal guns and violence.

Even if there were good jobs for all, there would still be elements of all of those things but probably far fewer incidents.

Sadly, we didn’t get into any deeper issues at this meeting.

In fact, the last band-aid solution posed as we left was to partner with Temple Hospital to give the community free “First Responder” classes specifically for gun shot victims. Talk about about dealing with symptoms.

I cross my fingers that the next meeting goes a different direction.





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“Organizing,” or the act of bringing people together to improve their conditions, is a delicate balance of ingredients.  ”Anger” is a common well spring for action.  Have you ever noticed how common it is to see this displayed at union rallys?  Union leaders stand at  the podium and bellow hoarsely into the bullhorn and wrap it up with a chant.

“Anger,” as Zach Dela Rocha put it, “is a gift.


It is true that anger motivates people to make change.  However, I have always found that anger is a heavy emotion to carry.  It does motivate, but if anger is not turned toward hope then it will wear you out.

Emerging from hope, that energy can inspire us if we can embedded it in a set of “values.”

If their is one thing I attribute my longevity to as an organizer it is that I am motivated now by a set of principles and not solely by anger.

I had a great discussion about this switch one day with the well-respected Journalist, Randy Lobasso.

Mr. Lobasso wanted to meet up and discuss my recent switch from the Restaurant Opportunity Center and how I found myself at POWER.

I attributed most my desire to move to POWER because of the organizations focus on values as a frame for action.

POWER is under the leadership of Bishop Dwayne Royster, “We’re really trying to change politics,” he says. “People’s politics aren’t translating to City Council, much less Harrisburg, in the way people live. Putting [issues] in a moral framework actually brings people together in ways that hasn’t been done in Philly in a while. I think that’s reflected in the [minimum wage] vote.”

Read more: http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/The_Moral_Imperative-263547841.html#ixzz3CkYiBDE2

In any case, it is a great article and Mr. Lobasso spells out how important moral framing is in organizing and how different it is compared to the approach of most progressive groups.

It is a great article and it gives POWER a lot of deserved credit for the huge living wage victory in May.  This effort could not have succeeded without the work of  SEIU 32 BJ, the Working Families Party, Action United and UNITE HERE.

Sadly, I have to be careful of sharing this article with people who are new to POWER though.  The Editor, thought it would be funny to give the article a splashy title- “Hey, liberal activists—try arguing basic morality instead of wonky bullshit.”

Due to the curse word, I can’t refer new folks to it as they are often offended by, “bullshit.”  I work around this by only giving it out as a print out and by blacking out the offending word with a marker.

Mr. Lobasso did a great job title non-withstanding.





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On May 4th, the Daily News published a glowing biographical profile about me written by Ronnie Polaneczky.

I was stunned when I read it. It is a beautiful and flattering portrait for sure.

A few of my friends saw it and quickly posted it to my Facebook. I “liked” their notices and then it hit me, “Will I seem vain if I draw attention to it? Is so, should I mention it?”  It seemed kind of weird.

After thinking about it for the month I concluded that, yes, I will seem proud to repost this article and HELL YEAH I SHOULD re-post it!

How can I not? This is the highest and kindest recognition of my work that I have ever received!

Ronnie’s portrait is wonderfully thorough, covering, the event during my mining days that turned me into an organizer, several victories I’ve been fortunate enough have been a part of and even my new job with Philadelphian’s Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER).  Mrs. Polaneczky frames my work by the locations of my various campaigns of the the years…

…Rodriguez and I could’ve flown to Juneau, Ala., and chatted near the silver mine where he once toiled alongside his father. They pushed their employer to honor the law allowing miners the right to wash their hands before lunch and to eat their meal in a clean place. Father and son got fired for their trouble, but three years later the rights they’d demanded were finally enforced…We could’ve met on the campus of Temple, Penn or Drexel, or on the steps of the Philly Art Museum…at each institution Rodriguez organized protests by security guards … which resulted in the creation of the Philadelphia Security Officers Union…”


It is fantastic. I am extremely honored.

A friend of mine helped my finally understand what a big deal this was when he told me, “Your children will read this some day.”


Basking in this spotlight for a couple of weeks really made me feel good. It made me think that the labor and social justice movement doesn’t do enough to appreciate each other and the work that we do together! We would all do well to be celebrated more often.Bread and Roses Community Fund is one of the few organizations that celebrates organizers at their annual Tribute To Change event.  This year it will be on June 24.  Be sure to by tickets and celebrate our local heroes.  Here is a link where you can learn more- http://breadrosesfund.org/tribute-to-change/

Then, as I was pondering how happy I felt being appreciated, I saw a wonderful video by Soul Pancake. The video does a small test based on a scientific study that found that we are most happy when we tell those that we love and admire how much they mean to us. WATCH IT AND SPREAD THE LOVE-

Thank you, Ronnie. Thank you for this wonderful article. Thank you for reminding me how important it is to make those around us happy, just as you have done for me.

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Photo by Kimberly Paytner, WHYY

Photo by Kimberly Paytner, WHYY.

…and the pastor asks the Rabbi, “What’s up with the frog?”  And, the rabbi says, “Did you know that you can vote to change the city charter on May 20th so that Philadelphia contractors and sub-contractors will receive a living wage?”…

It’s no joke people.  You really can!

WHYY did a nice piece on the effort of POWER to get the votes out in a off year election.  I was happy to hear that they feature Reverend Bernice Baxter, one of my leaders from Harold O’Davis church.

The canvassing is “just to get some face-to-face contact so people know that we’re real and we’re serious about the importance of the primary.” said Rev. Baxter

I lead the training and they went out and talked to the neighborhood. Another team of faith leaders canvassed in the afternoon and teams of lay-leaders (read: church/synagogue members) are canvassing every day between now and the election (MAY 20).

The support for Ballot Issue #1, Living Wages for city contractor and sub-contractors has received overwhelming support form the people that we have spoken too.

City residents are equally excited about our plans to launch a campaign for a Full, Fair Funding Formula for Pennsylvania schools in the fall.

We had a powerful rally on this issue last Friday.  Check out the video here

and here  http://fabriciorodriguez.tumblr.com/post/85244601091/students-and-ministers-marching-in-protest-of










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It isn’t accurate to call this news any more, I guess.  It has been almost 2 months since I stepped down from ROC.

If you didn’t know, you may be confused by my recent quote in the Spring Edition of Edible Philly that just hit newsstands last week, in which I talk about the state of the restaurant industry-

“Everybody likes to brand themselves as being sustainable,” says Rodriguez. He thinks restaurant buzzwords like “sustainable” don’t mean much when the values implied don’t extend to the people who work there. “It doesn’t make any sense to have locally grown lettuce if the person putting the salad together has to go to work when they’re sick.”

Pick one up.  The extensive expose was courageously written by Emily Teel, herself a local restaurant server and journalist.

Don’t let the article fool you though, I began talking with Ms. Teel late last year.  I stepped down as the Lead Organizer at Philly ROC in February.

My new job, as an organizer with Philadelphian’s Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER, a PICO affiliate) is a return to my old roots.

See the announcement on the POWER website here!

During my days as the Executive Director of Jobs with Justice (from 2003- 2008ish) I was also the coordinator of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ).  I have always been a rampant “networker.”  In fact, in that capacity, I attended the first national meeting of the Restaurant Opportunities Center in the national offices in Chicago (around 2006?).

Anyway, in my time at Jobs with Justice, which I loved, I also noticed that faith communities organized in a entirely different way than my friends in the labor movement.

Though this is not universally true, I think that faith communities organize based on the strength of their relationships, where (often) labor communities organize on the strength of a plan or end goal.

Maybe it is simply a difference of style that works for me , but I have always found that “relational” style refreshing and extremely powerful.

This came to bare in a major way during the Philadelphia Officers and Workers Rising (POWR!) campaign to organize security officers campaign.

The POWR campaign was hosted and sustained by the faith community.  In the darkest moments, JWJ had to lay off all of the staff.

Eduardo and I had to survive on contributions from our family and friends (and my girlfriend at the time, and now wife, Emily Randle) and unemployment checks.

It was the hopes, love, support and prayers of security officers and our friends in the faith community like Rev. Dwayne Royster, Rev. Jay Broadnax, Rev. Schaunel Steinnagel, Rev. Andrew Plotcher, Rev. Beverely Dale and many more that got us through.

The POWR campaign got its only financial resource (post-JWJ) from the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Bread and Roses Community Fund.

I learned a lot from these leaders and we accomplished amazing things together.  The effort to win paid sick days evolved into wage theft campaigns and eventually into the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU).

Since that time, the PSOU has won more than $2 million in wage (extremely conservative estimate), benefit and working condition improvements in the city and is still representing security officers well at the Museum, UPenn and the Riverfront.

Most of all, though, I will never forget that moment when I witnessed the power of faith.










After months of trying to vault our message of “the workers need paid sick days” over the official wall that guarded the Temple University Board of Trustees, Rev. Dwayne Royster caused what I will always remember as the “Holy Disruption.”

At this rally on December 10, 2008, the Reverend stood in front of the police that were blocking the door to the Board of Trustees meeting, preventing us from communicating like they had so many times before.

Dwayne spoke about how God had called on so many before to disrupt their lives for the greater good, how Mary had to disrupt her life to give birth to Jesus.

At that, he called on us hundred or so protesters, and even the police, to disrupt the meeting for justice.

At that, Reverend (now a Bishop) turned around, faced the police and began marching toward the door.

I was dumbfounded when the police moved away from the doors.

We marched in.










We lined the stairwell and the doors.  We sang and we prayed, and when the police warned us to leave, we locked arms and sang louder.

Only when the paddy wagons pulled up and zip ties were laid at our feet did we exit.

I knew at that time that I wanted to be a part of this world.

I am proud to now organize for an organization lead by Bishop Dwayne Royster and am looking forward to organizing for POWER,

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1, 159 current and former Chickie’s & Pete’s workers will be awarded back wages and damages from a $6.8 million dollar award. The consent judgment, one of the largest awards ever recorded in the region, includes back wages from multiple wage and hour violations. The case stemmed from the passage of the Gratuities Protection law that ROC lead on in 2011.  It was at that time (and sadly still is in many Center City restaurants) common practice for an employer to take 3% out of a tip that was put on your credit or debit card to cover the overhead cost of the privileged of accepting credit/debit as a form of payment.

An additional $1.6 million was awarded in a private lawsuit and a wooping $50,000 in damages, less than 1% of total wages stolen, were awarded to the D.O.L.

The investigation found that the employer, Pete Ciarrocchi, was taking 3% of tips when they were charged to a credit card, not paying minimum wage and over-time (1.5 x wages after 40 hours) and even cases of restaurant workers have to pay cash out of their pockets to the owner and into the tip pool just for working their shift.

This is an enormous victory, not only for the workers, Department and Labor, the law firms involved but for all restaurant workers across Philadelphia.

This story has been evolving for a while.

Chickie’s and Pete’s workers were among some of the first workers to join the Restaurant Opportunities Center in September 2011. 2 women from the airport restaurant attended one of our “Know Your Right’s” trainings and had many stories of how they often would not make the minimum wage and how they faced constant sexual harassment on the job.  They also complained that their employer was taking 3% of their tips to cover credit card usage fees.

After the training, one of them told me that she would bring more of her co-workers in to learn about their rights.

I did keep in touch with them but they told me that their co-workers were too scared to even come to our office to learn about their rights.

At around the same time, Andrea Lemoins and I were working with Councilman James Kenney’s office to pass the Gratuities Protection Bill. This bill would make it illegal for an employer (not only restaurant owners) to take any tips away from workers.

I recall at the time that the opposition to this law was strong, but very subtle. Restaurant owners were speaking against it but only from Council office to Council office and never in front of the public hearings.

Marc Vetri warned on twitter that it would cost Stephen Starr $300,000 per year if it went through (way to out a friend for tip stealing, ouch!).

Councilman Green tried to justify his vote against it saying that he thought that it was a “backdoor tax” that would drive restaurants our of the city. This is, of course, the same claim made about everything from ending child labor, to the smoking ban, to paid sick leave, to not having to even pay the minimum wage (the tipped minimum wage is only $2.83/hour in PA).

Nonetheless, it passed the Philadelphia City Council, on Nov 15th, 2011 with only Councilman Green and Councilman O’Neil standing up for wage theft in it’s purest form (Picture an owner taking a tip of a table and putting it in his pocket).

By the second week in December of 2011, the two Chickie’s and Pete’s workers confirmed to me that the owner was indeed ignoring the law and still taking 3% of their tips.

The first domino fell.

Honestly, when the law first passed, we had no idea of it’s potential impact. Councilman Kenney, I believe, advocated for the bill out of moral repulsion at the thought of his tip not going to his server. We say it as a strong campaign and a big opportunity (this victory has returned at least 10 million in wages to workers since 2011).

Over the next 6 months, I met with several more workers from various Chickie’s and Pete’s locations who wanted to fight back. Most of them got cold feet never to be heard from again, some of them joined the lawsuits that were were starting to hear about and one of them remains a leader at ROC.

Since that time, I know of at least 3 lawsuits against employers for the illegal practice of taking the 3% of tips to pay for credit cards usage fees.

More and more dominos followed, all prompted by the growing knowledge that it is illegal to make servers pay the credit card usage fees, most growing into other types of wage theft as more details came out.

Sadly, this practice is still wide spread. In fact, 2/3rds of restaurant workers in our city have suffered some form of wage theft in the last year.

Hopefully, with campaigns like Fat Salmon and now Chickie’s and Pete’s setting an example the consequences that employers can face, this will begin to change.

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Last Wednesday we were proud to celebrate two individuals that mean a lot to us here at the Restaurant Opportunities Center at our annual (ish) Diner’s Guide Release (sort of).

Ok, so we had our first first dinners guide release in December of 2012 and the next one in January of 2014…just over a year later, so not exactly annually.

Additionally, we did not “release” any diner’s guides.  We have decided to not publish them on paper because they are expensive and bad for the environment.  Still, we did premier a new list of employers who have chosen to take the high-road to profitability.

Our list of good guys this year includes; Fergie’s, Grace Tavern, Monk’s, Nodding Head and the Belgian Cafe. If you don’t know, all of these places are at least partly owned by Fergus Carey, a well-known and respected restauranteur. These restaurants get a thumbs up for paying their tipped workers a wage of $5/hour in addition to any tips that they are given from customers. Though they don’t get any points in the Diner’s Guide for it, Fergie’s donates space for us to host all of our server training classes. They are awesome, for sure.

The Random Tea Room also gets accolades for paying its tipped workers more than $5/hour, serving on that employer round-table that I mentioned earlier and because they offer career advancement opportunities. Be sure to stop in their and tell them that you care!

Tequila’s Restaurant is also an exceptional employer. They pay their front-of-the-house workers $5/hour and their kitchen staff at least $10/hour. They get a triple star rating for also serving on a nation ROC committee about employer practices. Congratulations, David Suro, the owner of Tequila’s, and all the people that work there.

Another new addition to the Diner’s Guide this year is The Quick Fixx. The Quick Fixx is on South Street across from Bob and Barbara’s and they not only focus on “Chef Inspired” fastfood for the health conscience but also on running a truly sustainable business. The Quick Fixx get’s good marks from us by paying their tipped workers more than $5/hour, serving on that employment practices round-table and for offering paid sick leave.

At the party itself, we honored Pete Ellis, the owner of El Fuego Mexican Food. Pete is such a good employer, he is literally ranked beyond what our scale offers. Of good places to work, on a scale of 1-10, El Fuego is like an 11.

At El Fuego, all of the workers are paid at least $10/hour, benefit from a paid sick leave policy, internal promotions policy and work for an employer who is committed to promoting good employer practices on our national round-table.

From this week Al Dia newspaper, “ Alguna vez me ha llamado algún trabajador para avisar que está enfermo. En ocasiones yo he trabajado en su lugar, pero creo que es lo correcto”, dijo Ellis. TRANSLATION, “Sometimes a worker will call in sick. I will have to work for them (they get ½ days pay). I think it is the right thing to do.” says Ellis.

Pete also started a 401k plan with a 3% match this year, a benefit that is unheard of in the restaurant industry.

We were proud to celebrate El Fuego at this years party.

We were also excited to praise Zulekia Ellis (no relation). Zulekia as one of our most active members. She is an energetic young woman who signed up for our serve classes last year. After she finished Fine-Dining Table Service 101, she went on to complete 201 and Bar-Tending. Zulekia could have moved on from there, but instead she joined a committee to improve and market our training programs.

Zulekia is a fantastic example of grassroots leadership. That is why we were glad to make her our nominee to the National Bruce Herman Fellowship, a new fellowship created to build the leadership of restaurant workers.

We had a great time. You can join in the fun by downloading our free Diner’s Guide app at your Apple or Android app store (no Windows version, sorry) or by printing yourself an old-fashioned paper version from our website. 

I encourage justice minded individuals, organizations, unions and union law firms to host meals, events and get catering from all of these good employers. You too can help pave a high-road to sustainable work places by doing business with these restaurants. Be sure to let them know that you are purchasing their food because they treat workers right!




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Direct-Action Campaign Victory Serves As Example To A Growing Food Worker Justice Movement

2 of these workers went on strike on May Day to stand up against wage theft.

2 of these workers went on strike on May Day to stand up against wage theft.

Food and restaurant workers all around the country are getting organized.

Since the Great Recession millions of people lost their jobs. Meanwhile, the restaurant sector has continued to grow.

Both the people who lost their jobs (education, construction, manufacturing, retail and medical services) and new workers exiting college and high school are competing for jobs in restaurants.

With all of the organic and local items on menus, it has never been a better time to eat in our country. At the same time, this may be the worst time in a long time to be a restaurant worker.

As an example, the wages of restaurant workers in Philadelphia have declined by 11% since 2003 and nationally, the tipped minimum wage hasn’t increased since 1991.

As a result, restaurant workers are fighting back.

This year we witnessed cafeteria workers at Upenn conducting job actions despite not having a union affiliation (they recently joined the Teamsters and have a contract). Also, fast food workers starting conducting strikes at McDonald’s all across the country and tomorrow we expect hundreds of workers to conduct job actions at 100 fast food restaurants. Darden workers are speaking out against the low-wages.

Yesterday, five former workers from a popular Philadelphia sushi restaurant announced that they had reached a $40,000 settlement with their employer, showing a growing food worker movement a powerful example of how they can get organized and win.

The victory is the culmination of a unique effort started by the workers this year.

The employer was accused of taking some portion of tips from his workers with various justifications such as to cover some of the credit card usage fees and for workers not being proficient in menu knowledge.

It is pretty amazing to look back at this enormous victory and remember how it all started.

In Mid-April, Diana a ROC member and a worker at the restaurant, reached out to Philly ROC staff member, Sheila Maddali, and stated that she and a couple of her co-workers were planning on quitting in protest of the wage issues.

We convinced them to meet with us before giving their employer their quitting notice.

We met with them and gave them a short training on what their rights are as workers.

They decided to go on strike rather than quit.

The strike itself was somewhat unprecedented. Especially since the workers were not unionized. And the workers did not get fired after going on strike.”-Randy Lobasso

A couple days later, Sheila and I followed Diana, Claire and Jeff into the restaurant at 11 at night and they made their employer aware of their strike and outlined their problems with the working conditions (See earlier posts for a video of the announcement).

The next week was nerve racking for us all but as the deadline that they set for their employer approached, we were excited when more workers from the restaurant stepped forward in solidarity of their effort.

On May 1st, Claire and Diana announced their strike to the world with a small group of supporters and members of the media. In total, 13 of their fellow co-workers signed on a public statement to the restaurant owner.

These women inspired us with their courage.  No one who went on strike or signed the letter was fired as a result.

At that time the Galfand Berger,  LLC, stepped forward to offer these workers representation.

Since that time, these women have driven the negotiation process. They were also glad to get some help from their co-workers, Justine and Sean who joined this independent, work-place-justice campaign after the strike started.

I can assure you, there were times when they were scared and we at ROC were concerned for them during those sketchy moments. They were unfairly criticized by other workers in the industry on the internet, and one of them had a hard time finding another job because she had been labeled as a “trouble-maker” by some restaurant owners.

Nonetheless, they stuck together and they stayed organized and kept pressing forward, step by step.

Henry Yampolsky, an attorney from Galfand Berger LLC, represented these workers with an amazing attention to detail and a fantastic amount of energy and professionalism.

Mr. Yampolsky pointed out in this report by Pat Loew from KYW CBS Radio that they had the law on their side.

I think that they have set a good example for other restaurant and food workers across our country who want to stand up for their rights (much less the 2/3rds of workers in our country who suffer some form of wage theft).

Attorney Debra Jensen also points out that all workers can utilize the law to their advantage in this article by Randy Lobasso in the Philadelphia Weekly.

If you are a restaurant worker (or a worker from any industry) you can win your rights with the right combination of self-organization, direct-action, a solid strategy, a plan to get your message out to the public, legal support and persistence.

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Emily + me In The Daily News Today!

Emily and I got to chill wit’ Dana DiFilippo and Yung Kim, of the Daily News,  in our side lot yesterday.

It was really hot and I felt bad for the intrepid reporters as we sweated in my kitchen chatting.

They took it in stride and we had a fun conversation.

Check out the Chillin Wit’ feature here…

On this Sunday, they’re painting picnic tables in the grassy lot beside their North Philadelphia home. They’ll need the seating for Rodriguez’s father, siblings and other relatives who will share their home the week before and after the wedding.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20130715_Chillin__Wit______Fabricio_Rodriguez.html#vuS6wDESRGBJlawW.99

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