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Change the National Conversation about Restaurant Workers

December 7, 2012

There’s a book I really want you to read, only here’s the catch: it’s not in bookstores yet. So why am I telling you? Because this book will put an essential issue of economic justice on the map — but only with your help. Our immediate goal: get it on the bestseller lists. Our bigger goal: change the national conversation about the rights of restaurant workers.

Raising wages for millions of restaurant workers

For the past three years, UUSC has been working our partner the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United) to raise the federal tipped minimum wage. It’s been frozen at a mere $2.13 per hour since 1991, leaving millions of workers — mostly women — in poverty and unable to feed their own families. We’ve advocated for legislation (the WAGES Act and the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012), but none of it has made it into law yet. We expect a similar bill to be reintroduced in 2013, and we need to show policymakers that there is widespread popular support for raising this minimum wage.

We have a plan to achieve this! It starts with you — and it continues with everyone you know. We believe that there are millions of people who eat out at restaurants and who care about how the people who make their meals possible are treated. To reach those millions, ROC-United’s codirector and cofounder Saru Jayaraman has written a book, Behind the Kitchen Door: What Every Diner Should Know About the People Who Feed Us, that provides an inside look into the personal experiences of restaurant workers around the country.

Here’s what Danny Glover, actor, producer, and cofounder of Louverture Films, has said about the book:

“With Behind the Kitchen Door, Saru Jayaraman has introduced a fresh and essential perspective on our culture’s food obsessions and dining habits. By highlighting the lives and circumstances of workers who are often unseen and unheard, she has helped us see that labor is a key ingredient of authentic sustainability, and greatly enriched our understanding of those people who have — whether we have recognized it or not — been part of some of the most important celebrations of our lives.”

Putting the “W” in SLOW

Behind the Kitchen Door is not just a book — it is the key to reaching a broad audience and a unique opportunity for Unitarian Universalists and other UUSC and ROC-United supporters to change the national conversation about how to create a truly sustainable food system. Since Unitarian Universalists are often at the leading edge of emerging justice issues, more than 400 congregations across the country have been involved in the Ethical Eating Congregational Study Action Issue, and in 2011 the UU General Assembly approved “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice” as a statement of conscience.

Building on that foundation, UUSC believes that UUs can continue to be at the forefront of this national movement to improve the restaurant industry. Just as diners changed the restaurant industry by asking for sustainable, locally sourced, and organic (SLO) options, we can shift restaurant practices from the bottom up by requesting respect for workers’ rights in every dining establishment — putting the “W” in SLOW.

How you can help

We hope that you will help take the lead in sharing the book’s message and that we can work together to help Behind the Kitchen Door make it onto the New York Times bestsellers list, thereby garnering vital national attention for restaurant workers and their call for better conditions.

We will be counting on you to buy Behind the Kitchen Door in the critical first two weeks of its release — February 11–23, 2013 — to get it on the bestseller lists, so we can make sure that millions of Americans read this book and join the conversation. UUSC will provide links to Powell’s Books and other vendors where you will be able to purchase the book. We will also offer a discussion guide and other materials to help you take action in your own community. Let’s make this a major turning point for the more than 10 million workers who chop, cook, and serve our food!

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