University students have been involved in a campaign to protest what they believe is a violation of workers’ rights at a local restaurant.
Since November 2009, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan has been protesting outside of Andiamo restaurant, which they claim is violating minimum wage requirements, ignoring sexual harassment allegations and discriminating based on gender, race and national origin.
In addition, the workers filed a federal lawsuit in January for $125,000 worth of back wages as well as for the various forms of discrimination they experienced.
In response to the allegations made by ROC-MI, Andiamo restaurant has decided to counter-sue the organization, according to representatives of the restaurant. A recent press release from Andiamo restaurant stated “no information was provided (by ROC-MI) to allow Andiamo of Dearborn to even try to look into the claims.”
“Since the beginning of ROC-MI’s attack, Andiamo of Dearborn has been asking for proof of ROC-MI’s allegations,” the press release stated. “To date, the organization has refused to provide any details regarding these allegations so that Andiamo of Dearborn could address them with the true facts.”
ROC-MI is an independent, non-profit organization, which aims to support restaurant workers in southeast Michigan and has been working to improve conditions in the restaurant industry.
Social Work graduate student Jaimie Philip, an ROC-MI intern, said the organization began its campaign against Andiamo restaurant by delivering a demand letter to the restaurant on Nov. 5, which all the workers involved in the campaign, had signed.
“(It) stated what the concerns were to the restaurant, and it gave them the opportunity to start negotiations with us, but that didn’t happen,” Philip said. “Part of the demand letter states that if they don’t respond within two weeks, the workers will take legal and community action, so that’s when the protests began.”
Marla Linderman, an attorney with Linderman Law P.C., released a statement to The Michigan Daily today on behalf of the restaurant. In the statement representatives of Andiamo restaurant wrote that the restaurant initially tried solving the situation with ROC-MI before the group filed a lawsuit against the company.
“Andiamo of Dearborn absolutely responded to the demand letter and offered to investigate the claims,” the document stated. “However, ROC-Michigan made it clear, on more than one occasion, that they were not interested in any sort of constructive dialogue; they just wanted to cause damage to Andiamo of Dearborn’s reputation.”
Additionally, Andiamo officials claim they had two business days to respond to the group’s demand letter, not two weeks.
Despite the restaurant’s claims, ROC-MI and University students have been protesting outside the restaurant every Friday night at 7 p.m. According to LSA sophomore Mary Birkett, who said she’s a regular protester, the group usually consists of community members, restaurant workers and University students.
“We stay on the sidewalk outside of Andiamo,” she said. “We usually just march there with our picket signs that say ‘Hungry for Justice.’ We have noise makers as well as improv drum sets, shakers and a cow bell.”
Philip said the organization held a special action protest in front of Andiamo on Valentine’s Day, since it is “one of the biggest days in the restaurant industry.”
“The theme of the day is ‘Love Your Server,’” she said. “We’re passing out chocolates and things to customers as they come in to thank them for their support of the workers and also to educate them about the campaign a little bit.”
Starting tonight, ROC-MI will be holding monthly vigils in front of the restaurant to show further support for the workers. Interfaith Worker Justice in Detroit is helping to organize these events.
Philip added that ROC-MI will continue protesting “until we win,” adding that the group has been trying to expand campus awareness about the campaign and get more University students involved.
Birkett said there is currently a Project Community class with a whole section devoted to educating students about the campaign as well as getting people out to protest. He said he hopes to work with Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality and the Roosevelt Institute’s Center on Urban Planning and Community Development on a workshop about labor rights at the upcoming Michigan Social Justice Conference in March.
Though the organization has plans to expand the protests, the restaurant said in the statement that they “stand by its outstanding record and reputation in the community” and the “community has been outstanding in its support of Andiamo.”