DEARBORN, Mich. - A major turning point has been reached for the restaurant workers at Andiamo restaurant here. Their fight for fairness and dignity on the job, which has won wide support from students, clergy, labor and the social justice community, is now seeking legal backing as workers from the restaurant filed a federal wage and hour lawsuit on Jan. 12 in federal district court.
They have also filed a compliant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging their employer discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and gender.
The workers have been organized by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), a national organization that fights for restaurant workers' fundamental rights to fairness, respect and dignity in the workplace.
At Andiamo, they have had no shortage of issues to organize around.
According to Minsu Longiaru, ROC-Michigan coordinator, the lawsuit is based on workers being owed "upwards of $125,000 dollars for damages, unpaid wages and legal violations they have experienced."
Longiaru said that last fall the workers had sought to talk to management about their concerns but were told, "We don't want to meet with you."
Longiaru said, "If they won't hear us on the inside, maybe they will hear us on the outside."
"Outside" has meant weekly spirited actions full of singing and chants that ROC's supporters make sure are heard loud and clear by both management on the inside and those driving by the busy avenue the business sits next to.
Present at last week's rally was Michael Morganroth, a former Andiamo server who said he was promised he would earn nearly $500 a week but was lucky to make minimum wage working six shifts a week. "Every day management would tell us we were lucky to have a job and to not complain," he said.
"After a year of making dreadful money I approached management and let them know I wasn't making enough money and I wanted more tables per day," Morganroth said. "They told me since I was unhappy to consider myself terminated."
"It took me two and one-half months to find another job. I was literally at the gas station begging for quarters, washing windows - I was just trying to pay my bills. I had no health care. They fought me tooth and nail with my unemployment."
"I teamed up with ROC to make sure nobody would have to go through that again and to make this a better working environment," Morganroth said.
Another server who was terminated is Naome Debebe-Bogale. "It was the holiday time when they let me go, right before Christmas, so it's been really, really difficult," she said.
Now she's looking for work and having trouble paying bills.
Debebe-Bogale said that when workers stood up for their rights, "We get fired, hours get cut and we're told that we are under surveillance at all times."
"I work hard, we all work hard, we play by the rules, why can't they?" she asked.
Saundra Williams, president of the Detroit Metropolitan AFL-CIO and Pastor John Pitts Jr., chairman of Metropolitan Detroit Interfaith Workers for Justice, gave greetings and encouragement to the workers and their supporters.
The workers are being represented by the Sugar Law Center for Social and Economic Justice, Working Hands Legal Clinic and Kresch Oliver, PLLC.
Photo: PW/John Rummel