Restaurant workers celebrate “first birthday”

ROC workers

DEARBORN, Mich - The people on the picket line I approached this past Friday were acting as if a party was going to break out.

Why such enthusiasm on this windy, sub-freezing Friday evening?

It was the one-year "birthday" of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan protests at Dearborn's Andiamo restaurant.

Instead of treating the day as a reminder of twelve months without a final victory, ROC-MI took the opportunity to celebrate the unity and solidarity that have sustained them by having a birthday party.

But before the cake could be eaten, people naturally had to pay their dues. That entailed joining 100 people in one of the more rousing demonstrations of those that have been held weekly for the past year at the Dearborn restaurant.

In the past year ROC-MI, the workers at Andiamo and their growing numbers of supporters have chalked up a number of important victories. This past August the National Labor Relations Board found that Andiamo had illegally cut the hours of, intimidated and retaliated against servers and other restaurant workers in seeking to prevent them from participating in a lawsuit and protest against workplace violations.

Then in September, the campaign was given a major boost when the United Auto Workers called for a boycott of the restaurant.

At Friday's demonstration, Andiamo worker Naome Debebe recalled her feelings from the initial protest, one year ago.

"I remember how afraid I was the first day I showed up for a protest. I saw hundreds of people lined up," she said. "It gave me comfort.

"I was working as a server hired in for $2.65 an hour. I walk in the door and they tell me I have to work in the kitchen for $2.65 an hour. I paid over $100 for my uniform. At the end of the day I look behind me and the cook has been there 70 hours for the week without getting paid overtime. There's a woman next to him that has been experiencing sexual harassment. No one's doing anything about it.

"When we got together and stood up for our rights, they fired us, reduced our hours, put video cameras and told us we can't talk about this."

It was those violations that resulted in the NLRB victory.

Image: John Rummel/PW

Al Przydzial, assistant director of United Auto Workers Region 1A, told this reporter that in light of the recent elections it was "more important than ever to show support to these workers. Sometimes people forget that [Detroit] is not just hockey town, this is union town.

"We're not going to give up the fight. As President Barack Obama said, we took a shellacking but we are bouncing back and we are going to continue to fight. We're determined to help these workers all we can."

From the beginning of ROC's campaign, Pastor John Pitts Jr., the president of Metropolitan Detroit Interfaith Workers for Justice and a retiree from UAW Local 600, has been a consistent picketer and supporter. He told the crowd that, on this anniversary, "I'm a soldier in the army of the lord. I'm going to fight a good fight, I'm going to keep the faith, I'm going to finish my course, I'm not going to quit until justice is served."

Afterwards, everyone made the short trek to the New Place Lounge for cake, courtesy of UAW Region 1A, food and the drink of choice.

A good way to end an evening, the workers said, a great way to celebrate one year of struggle.

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