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Written Testimony of Sophia Cheng
Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles

(1) ROC-LA

ROC-LA is a non-profit community-based organization. Our mission is to improve wages and working conditions in the restaurant industry and we're a resource for restaurant employees, managers and employers. We are also a local affiliate of ROC United, the only national organization for restaurant workers across the U.S. with branches in 12 cities.

As a community organizer at ROC-LA, I have both an on-the-ground view, meeting and working with restaurant employees everyday, from fast food to full service, mom and pop to fine dining, as well as a birds eye view, looking at policy that impacts this workforce.

(2) Workplace harassment is common in the restaurant industry.

ROC analyzed EEOC claims and found that female restaurant workers file claims at a rate five times higher than the general female workforce, sparking "Not on the Menu" campaign.

Who harasses or is harassed?

  • Between co-workers
  • By customers toward employees
  • By managers toward employees

What are examples of harassment?

  • Can be explicit and implicit
  • Example of explicit harassment - a female server who had her breasts "honked" and fondled by a customer, a transgender barista harassed and felt unsafe using their preferred changing room to get into uniform
  • Example of implicit harassment - a female server lost her job after 4 years when a manager began to give the best shifts to employees who socialized with him outside of work, including drinking, partying and dating him - pressure to sleep with the manager

Why does harassment happen?

  • A worker told me, "It's common but we should never say it's normal"
  • Normalization of harassment goes hand in hand with normalization of other workplace violations (e.g. 80% violation rate of wage and hour law - source is DOL and UCLA)
  • Harassment is baked into the culture of many workplaces even from the start, with hiring. For example, job postings on Craigslist seek employees based on physical appearance and expect that using your looks is part of the job:
    • "Looking for a attractive female host in Westwood"
    • "Long Beach restaurant seeks servers and bartenders -- must be attractive, personable and outgoing"
    • "Bar seeking motivated, independent beauties -- must be attractive, bubbly and confident"
  • Impact of tips and tip credit
    • Reliance on tips -- put up with harassment from customers.
  • Safe workplace is management responsibility
    • Even when managers don't directly harass employees, it's a management responsibility to foster a safe work environment, including clear anti-harassment policies.
    • Restaurant work is teamwork -- employees don't want to jeopardize relationship with co-workers and be seen as "problematic" or humorless. Management sets the tone.
  • Fear of retaliation
    • Scheduling happens week by week -- fear of undesirable shifts from manager if seen as "problematic" employee.
    • Workers lack knowledge of legal rights and faith in legal remedies -- lack of high-profile, successful examples of resolving harassment.
    • Workers fear being blacklisted or otherwise having trouble finding work, like not getting a good reference.

(3) ROC-LA services

  • Outreach to workers through street, word of mouth, referrals from existing members and government agencies, like California Labor Commissioner
  • Weekly legal clinic, including referrals to mental health providers and attorneys
  • Know your rights trainings both individually and in groups - focus on real-life application, protection from retaliation, the importance of collectively assertively rights with co-workers and gathering evidence

(4) Examples of real-life solutions to harassment

  • Abusive general manager in Pasadena - employees circulated a petition, delivered the petition with community supporters and the GM was given the option to transfer or leave the company. He opted to leave the company.
  • Wage and hour violations are usually workers' priority -- because harassment can be divisive among coworkers (esp if it happens between co-workers) and remedies are unclear, workers often ID wage theft (wage and hour problems) as a priority. However, in the process of resolving wage theft in the workplace, workers also address overall management practices that also enable harassment.