International Clash Day: Spotlight on ROC United

Community Engagement, International Clash Day

Because The Clash was anti-racist, anti-fear, pro-solidarity, pro-unity, pro-inclusion, KEXP is taking time to spotlight local social-justice organizations making a difference in our community. This is a public service announcement with GUITARS.


Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, aka ROC United, empowers the restaurant workforce with a mission to increase wages and improve working conditions across the nation. Founded by Fekkak Mamdouh and Saru Jayaraman in the wake of 9/11, ROC is committed to addressing issues that have long plagued the restaurant industry. From wage theft to sexual harrassment, ROC helps workers know their rights and supports them to thrive within their jobs. 

KEXP chatted with Elena Perez, the director for ROC's Seattle chapter, about the history of their organization, how vital restaurants are to our country's economy, and how employers can also step up to ensure they're protecting their workers. 

Elena Perez: So ROC United started after 9/11 in New York as a relief center for displaced restaurant workers who had lost their jobs either through damage to their restaurants or loss in hours because of the plummet in tourism right after 9/11. And so that's how ROC United started and there was just demand for more. As workers heard about this center, they wanted to address other issues that they were facing in the industry: wage theft, discrimination, harassment, poverty wages, lack of benefits, and all of the things that we so often see in this industry. And so there was this pressure for ROC united to expand and continue on as we have done over the last 15 years.

The restaurant industry is critical for our country and our economy. It's the second largest private sector industry in the United States. It's the fastest growing. The unfortunate piece of that is that the majority of jobs that are being created in our country through this industry are poverty wage or low wage and we find that there are conditions that are just rampant in the industry, like sexual harassment. Nine out of 10 people who work in the industry have reported experiencing harassment on the job. And so while we want to support the industry, we know that in order for the industry to thrive workers need to thrive. People who work in the industry need to thrive and so on a day like International Clash Day when we're talking about you know lifting up the rights of people in a variety of different aspects, it's a great opportunity to talk to you about ROC and what we do. 


Our approach to change is is threefold. One is that we are a membership organization of people who work in the industry. So, if you are listening to this and you work in the industry – especially if you're in one of the cities where we have a chapter – reach out, tell us your story. Our job is to lift up the stories and the experiences of people who work in the industry and then drive for change. 

And so, if you're experiencing tip theft, wage theft, sexual harassment on the job, please reach out to us. You can reach us through our website and through our Facebook pages. Even if you're not in a city where we have a chapter, we can connect with you and still support you and what you're facing because you do have rights on the job. Sexual harassment is illegal. Wage theft is illegal and discrimination is illegal. And so we can address these issues through the law and also strengthening the law where we need to and really strengthening standards to make these jobs the kinds of jobs that we need to grow in this country. 

The other aspect is that we do highroad programming. What we can do, is we also lift up models of restaurant owners, restaurant tours, that do share our values and that do believe that they as a business thrive when their employees thrive. And so we have 200 to 300 restaurant owners that partner with us. And so if you own a restaurant, if you manage a restaurant, if you believe like we do that you do best when your employees are thriving, then reach out to us. Join our network. It's called Raise Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards and Employment. So that's a way that you can be involved in helping to lead the change that you want to see in the industry and that you will already leading in operating your business.


KEXP is celebrating International Clash Day on Wednesday, February 7th, both online and on the air; click here to see more KEXP interviews and articles.

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