This month, a front group for organized labor called the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) is asking Los Angeles diners to embrace a half-baked new “Diners’ Guide” that ranks restaurants based on their labor practices.
In reality, this is a hypocritical ploy done for the benefit of ROC’s labor allies, not the general public. Given ROC’s history of mistreating employees and harassing restaurant employers, the “Diners’ Guide” should be taken with a grain of salt.
ROC was founded a decade ago by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) in New York City. While the organization was ostensibly set up to help restaurant employees displaced by September 11th attacks, ROC’s true goal—as described by co-founder Saru Jayaraman—was and remains to unionize “the 99 percent of the [restaurant] industry that doesn’t have a union”.
ROC’s best-known union style tactic is the restaurant shakedown, where they present a list of demands to a restaurant and threaten loud and rowdy protests if the employer doesn’t give in and pay up. Most owners wind up settling with ROC and their bullhorn-toting activists and pay them to go away.
But while loud restaurant protests are ideal for riling up true believers, they aren’t effective at converting a skeptical public to ROC’s cause—especially when ROC’s protests result in embarrassing restraining orders against the organization. ROC has thus opted for a more PR-friendly tack, authoring the high-gloss “Diners’ Guide” which ranks restaurants based on employee compensation rather than food quality.
The guide starts with the premise that a restaurant shouldn’t be judged on its food and service, but rather whether it meets arbitrary labor standards that ROC (rather than the federal government) has set for it. They heap failing grades on most national chains, while awarding a handful of single-outlet or regional locations—including its own COLORS restaurant—a passing grade.
That’s where the guide’s problems start: ROC’s restaurant, which was supposed to be a model employer for the industry to follow, has instead proved unsuccessful. The COLORS restaurant continues to lose money, and is propped up by no-interest loans and cash infusions from its parent organization, ROC.
In other words, ROC’s flagship restaurant demonstrates that the “Diners’ Guide” model is not to be taken seriously. That’s further evidenced by the fact that many of the other restaurants that ROC has identified as model employers do not actually meet ROC’s standards—that ROC is apparently willing to discard in exchange for support of its ideological agenda.
Failing to live up to the expectations it sets for others is par for the course for ROC. It turns a judgmental eye on the pay practices of others, while using unpaid workers to collect data for their own reports; it accuses others of stealing employees’ wages, but doesn’t think twice about taking a ten percent cut of any winnings from employee lawsuits; it alleges widespread workplace harassment in the restaurant industry, but has been sued by its own employees for (among other things) engaging in a campaign of intimidation against them.
In short, ROC has zero credibility to criticize anyone else on labor practices. ROC’s allegations come from data collectors instructed (in ROC’s own training guide) to “know the agenda” of the project, and to “prompt people” to get newsworthy quotes where necessary. Employees aren’t surveyed in a scientific manner, but rather by convenience of ROC and its union allies.
Consumers and the media should treat ROC’s reports and especially its new dining guide the same way they’d treat a poorly-cooked meal at a restaurant—send it back.
Alison Harden is communications director for ROC Exposed.