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At the same time, a similar group gathered outside an Olive Garden restaurant in center city Philadelphia.
“If we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace,” they chanted in unison.
Across the nation, minimum wage activists rallied outside Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Capital Grille restaurants – all of which are owned by the same parent company, Darden Inc. – to decry corporate lobbying they say puts a lid on the minimum wage for restaurant workers.
But these supposedly grassroots efforts were in fact a well-orchestrated assault launched by ROC and labor union allies in several major cities. Other groups, such as the SEIU-backed Fast Food Forward, are working toward the same goal.
According to the group’s website, ROC began targeting Darden restaurants because the company joins with the National Restaurant Association, to lobby Congress in order to keep wages and benefits low.
Darden Restaurants did not return calls seeking comment.
A similar effort targeting a chain of New York restaurants owned by Chef Mario Batalicame to an abrupt halt last year when Batali sought and received a restraining order against ROC.
From humble beginnings to national network
Rather than unionizing a work place and using the collective bargaining process to negotiate with employers, groups like ROC use loud protests designed to attract public and media attention. They threaten lawsuits and disrupt business.
In short, they use techniques that would be illegal if they were an actual union, said Stefan Marculewicz, an attorney who specializes in labor issues.
“Labor organizations by their very existence are supposed to be democratic institutions,” Marculewicz said. “A majority of the workers have to sign up, or they have the option to not sign up.”
But ROC is not a union. And because they do not have to gain support from a majority of employees at a certain business – as a union world before it could begin negotiating with employers – groups like ROC can make their voices heard and their presence known without officially representing the workers they claim to support.
Maria Myotte, communications director for ROC, did not return calls and emails seeking comment on the organization’s strategy. But in a 2007 interview with the New York Post, one of ROC’s top officials described the practice as “minority unionism.”
“While a union has to go in and organize the majority of a shop to get some kind of collective bargaining agreement, in our case we’ll have a group of workers come in … a small number from a restaurant, and we will ‘organize’ them to create a demand letter, eventually file litigation, protest in front of the restaurant and get press,” said Saru Jayaraman, a co-founder of ROC.
ROC started in New York City to provide community support to the families of restaurant workers killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Now, they claim their goals include organizing workers “to create consequences for ‘low road’ restaurants that employ illegal and other exploitative workplace practices.”