The following post was written by Evan Seitz, Senior Associate for Service-Learning Programs at the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ).
How did you honor workers this Labor Day? For seven UUs, the answer was to attend a rally with labor leaders at the historic Pullman Factory in Pullman, Illinois. That’s not all the group did. They visited the site of the Hay Market Affair, which inspired May Day celebrations worldwide; met with labor organizers working in the restaurant industry and warehouse industry; and strategized on ways the UU community could more effectively ally with the labor movement. The activities were part of the inaugural “Food for Thought Program,” an economic justice training program offered by the UU College of Social Justice and UU Service Committee partner the Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC).
The training offered a chance to really listen to the people working to change entire industries. We heard from Felipe Tendick-Matezans, an organizer for ROC-Chicago who for many years worked in the restaurant industry. According to Felipe, it isn’t unusual for a worker to toil for years in the same position, with no opportunities to advance. ROC has changed that by offering certificate programs in bartending and other skills. The real work of ROC though is in organizing workers to participate in campaigns. Wage theft, paid sick days, better working conditions – all of these are tackled by ROC, which is structured as a series of local city chapters known as affiliates or smaller “ROC-Star” groups.
ROC and UUSC have collaborated on the Choose Compassionate Consumption campaign, which seeks to mobilize UUs as consumers to advocate for workers’ rights. As part of the training, our group dined at “High Road” restaurants – restaurants whose owners have pledged to pay their workers a fair wage and work to improve benefit packages and opportunities for advancement. Not only did we thank the staff for their service, we thanked the management and let them know we were eating there because of their fair labor policies.
I came away from the Food for Thought training having a much better understanding of how I could support this movement for fair wages and working conditions in the industry. If you care about the workers who prepare your food and want to gain the skills and knowledge to be a leader on this issue, consider coming to our next training on April 29 – May 3 in Chicago.