Organizing a Union within the Disorganized World of Small Eating places

Organizing a Union in the Disorganized World of Small Restaurants

During the pandemic, restaurant workers “were interested in an organization they didn’t have before,” said Sheigh Freeberg, the secretary and treasurer of Unite Here Local 17.

What is special about many of these young companies, Mr. Freeberg added, is that they are not acquiring millions of dollars’ worth of companies. Most independent restaurants operate on low profit margins. For these workers, “it’s about being respectful at work or being able to have your schedule ahead of time when it comes out,” he said. “Things that don’t cost any money.”

Yet many of the most recent organizing efforts have stalled or failed.

After working for more than three years at N7, a French bistro in New Orleans, Luna Vicini was fired from her position as floor manager last October. She believes it was because she organized workers around concerns about pay, transparency, and safety protocols. (The company did not respond to requests for comment.)

After Ms. Vicini left the office, nine employees went on strike; the restaurant closed for several days before the owners, Aaron Walker and Yuki Yamaguchi, reopened with mostly new staff. Ms. Vicini hoped to get her job back and unionise N7, but the strike failed when some employees returned to work or took jobs elsewhere.

“I think people left the strike because they couldn’t see what it would be like if it worked,” said Vicini, 31. “And they could see what it would be like if it didn’t work. ”

At American Beauty, a steakhouse in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles, six waiters and two former employees impaled the restaurant last March after owners reduced the percentage of the tip pool allocated to waiters and other front desk staff. The restaurant said the move should give kitchen staff a bigger share of that pool; The pickets said the business should simply raise wages for kitchen workers.