The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) grew out of a relief effort for the displaced employees of the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center tower destroyed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Within two years, ROC evolved into a vehicle for organizing and potentially unionizing (under the auspices of the Hotel Employees-Restaurant Employees union, now within the UNITE-HERE federation) non-union restaurant workers.
ROC claims not to be a labor organization, but it frequently acts as if it were one. A left-wing alternative newspaper in New York (ROC’s hometown) reported, “Bargaining and union-style brinkmanship are exactly what it does.” ROC has been served with at least one restraining order for harassing customers of restaurants against which ROC protested.
ROC has openly endorsed the dubiously legal tactic of “minority unionism,” by which union-like entities purport to represent employees and potentially bargain over working conditions without making an attempt to determine if a majority of employees support the effort. The group’s leader Saru Jayaraman told the website Dollars & Sense, “One difference between [ROC] and a union is that in a union you have to get a majority of a shop. In our case we just get a group of workers, but not necessarily the majority.”
To promote an alternative manner of restaurant organization, ROC operated a restaurant, COLORS, in Manhattan. While ROC devoted much of its efforts to campaigning for minimum wage increases and paid sick leave mandates, the restaurant affiliated with ROC was sued for requiring workers to work time without pay. COLORS was also served with $50,000 in New York State tax warrants.
Additionally, COLORS received poor New York City health inspection scores (38 and 18 demerit points), suggesting ROC’s claim that it looks out for health and safety is simply hypocritical. ROC’s use of unpaid survey-takers and interns has also led to criticism. The restaurant subsequently closed.
It reopened in 2019, only to shut down just six weeks later. Former head-chef of COLORS was informed via text message by a top ROC official that she, and 15 other employees, had just three days left as employees of the restaurant. Apparently, ROC had also failed to set-up basics such as payroll, health insurance, and worker’s compensation.