Thursday, March 22, 2007

ROC Lobster

What to do when the restaurant you've created starts collapsing thanks to its untenable, workers-exploiting business model? There's always hope you'll receive the same good fortune as the Noho eatery Colors, which The New York Times recently treated to an advertorial guised as hard news.

Pulling on New Yorkers' 9/11 heartstrings, Metro reporter Emily Vasquez retold Colors' faux-bio: Post-9/11, surviving Windows of the World workers banded together to create a restaurant that would set a new standard for workers -- ownership would take the form of a employee co-op, wages far surpassed the industry average and staffers' ethnic culinary traditions made up the menu.

But somehow, Vasquez reported, business failed to hold steady after the original media-generated fanfare died down. Workers are worried and confused, she said.

What the Times didn't report is that by month's end, former Colors workers are expected to sue its management, alleging this supposed model of workers' rights is actually, in one former co-op-board director's words, "one of the most abusive in the city."

In today's Post, I tell that story:
Colombia-born Orlando Godoy, 54, had been a floor captain at Windows. He joined up with ROC [which runs Colors] post-9/11, and stuck with it even after most other Windows workers left, because Jayaraman was offering a chance for him to realize his lifelong dream: to become a "co-owner" in a new restaurant venture.

Then came a demand to sign a contract in which workers/owners would agree to certain conditions: "paying monthly dues," "attending protests (at least one per campaign)," "supporting workers [at other restaurants] in any dispute with employers," "testifying in favor of worker legislation" and "holding my elected representatives accountable to his/her responsibilities."

Nonplussed - what did any of this have to do with running a restaurant? - Godoy refused to sign; he was subsequently forced out of ROC altogether.

The problem, he said in a recent interview, is that being a part of ROC and its offspring Colors requires a total embrace of Jayaraman's radicalism - even including trips to D.C. to protest the Iraq War.

"Saru thinks of herself as a workers' Che Guevara, but she's really a Stalin," says Behzad Pasdar.

Indeed, Pasdar charges, Jayaraman used ex-Windows staffers as a "golden goose." "She dragged them around town to [raise money from] foundations. But she wouldn't even pay them as promised."

Read it all.

Earlier: Restaurant Revolutionaries

UPDATE: The blog of Kreitzman Mortensen & Borden picks up on the story, adding its own example of labor-related hypocrisy.

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