Vol. 20,  No. 15 July 26 - August 22, 2007


Restaurant Workers Demand Action from Councilman


A group of restaurant workers showed up at Councilman Joel Rivera’s office last week to urge him to hold a hearing on a bill that would help protect restaurant workers from abuses in the workplace.

The Responsible Restaurant Act was introduced in the City Council on May 9 and was referred to the Health Committee, which Rivera chairs. It would require restaurants seeking to renew operating licenses to disclose to the Health Department any violations of city, state or federal labor laws and minimum wage laws, and the city could consider this information when deciding whether to renew licenses.

“We are not going to tolerate racial discrimination and not paying workers in our community,” said Jeff Mansfield, a community minister from Judson Memorial Church who spoke at a town hall meeting in the Bronx about the bill. He said it’s an important step in protecting the over 160,000 restaurant workers in the city.

Under the legislation, New Yorkers could search for information on employment violations at local restaurants on the health department’s Web site, just as they are currently able to view health code violations.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY), a workers rights group, and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition co-sponsored the town hall meeting July 18 at the Belmont Boulevard Apartments on East 185th Street to educate restaurant workers about their rights and garner support for the bill.

Organizers expected Rivera to attend, and when he didn’t show up, the group decided to go to him instead. They marched 10 blocks to his office on Southern Boulevard and presented his staff with over 200 “menus” signed by area residents demanding the Council take action on the bill.

Council staffer Angel Audiffred said the Health Committee was still considering the legislation but that no hearings have been scheduled. “They have to be patient and give the Council time to consider it,” he said in a phone interview.

Marisol Ramos, a youth organizer who lives near Fordham Road, got involved with ROC-NY after seeing her father struggle as a dishwasher and cook for 30 years at a City Island restaurant. Ramos translated for Julio Anzures, a restaurant worker who left a job at the Park Avenue Café that forced him to work 60 hours a week while he was only paid for 40.

According to “Behind the Kitchen Door,” a study released by the Urban Justice Center and ROC-NY in 2005 that surveyed 530 workers, 60 percent were not paid overtime, and 13 percent earned less than minimum wage.

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