Saru Jayaraman, Monica Ramirez, Mily Trevino-Saceda & Jenna Watanabe | 2018 MAKERS Conference
Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder and President of the ROC United and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley; Mónica Ramírez, Co-Founder and President, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas; Mily Treviño-Sauceda, Vice-President, Co-Founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas; and Jenna Watanabe, ROC United Board Member and Marketing Coordinator, Real Options for City Kids in San Francisco, on leading the way to a just workplace
LILY: Saru Jayaraman is one of the founders and the president of ROC, and she is director of the Food Labor Research Center at Berkeley university. Saru is going to tell you about all the work that ROC does and their plans for their future. Saru Jayaraman.
Thank you so much to Lily. She's amazing. She's an amazing spokesperson for these issues. So as you heard, my name is Saru. I am the director and founder of Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, ROC United. We're a national organization that has grown over the last 16 years. Really following the explosion in the industry.
The restaurant industry, as you heard from Lily, right now is the second largest and absolute fastest growing sector of the US economy. It's almost 13 million workers. One in eleven Americans currently works in the industry. One in two of us in America and in this room has worked in the industry at some point in our lifetime.
How many of you worked in the restaurant industry at some point in your life? Will you look around the room? This industry touches all of us, and it especially touches women. And it impacts our lives for the rest of our lives in so many ways.
Because this industry is the largest and fastest growing, but it continues to be the absolute lowest paying, and that is because of the money, power, and influence of a trade lobby called the National Restaurant Association, which represents the Fortune 500 chains. The Applebee's, the IHOPs, the Olive Gardens.
And it turns out that this trade lobby has been around since emancipation of the slaves when it first demanded in an earlier form that they not pay their workers at all. A mostly black, former slave workforce. Pay them a $0 wage and let them live on tips. And that idea of a $0 wage was made law in 1938 as part of the New Deal. And we went from a $0 wage in 1938 to a whopping $2.13 an hour in 2018.
And a $2 wage increase for women over an 80 year period. And over that 80 year period, the Restaurant Association has said, it's OK. These are white guys working in fancy fine dining steakhouses. They're making a lot of money in tips. When in fact, 70% of tipped workers in America are women. They are women working at those same restaurants-- IHOP, Applebee's, Olive Garden.
They suffer from three times the poverty rate of the rest of the US workforce and the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry. Because when you're a woman earning $2, and $3, and $4 an hour in 43 states, your wage is so low it goes entirely to taxes. You're living on your tips. You must put up with whatever the guy does to you, however they touch you, or treat you, or grab your butt because your income, your base pay comes from the customer, not from your employer.
And besides the millions of women that put up with this every day of their lives, there are millions more young women, our daughters, in fact, many of us, for whom this is the first job in high school, college, or graduate school in which we are taught, encouraged, told by managers, dress more sexy, show more cleavage, wear tighter clothing in order to make more money in tips.
And that has led to so many actresses, senators, and celebrities saying to us, you know, I've been sexually harassed more recently in my career and I didn't do anything about it because it was never as bad as it was when I was a young woman working in restaurants. Which means our industry is not only the worst on this issue, it sets the standard for the rest of the economy for women.
But there's good news on the horizon. As you heard, seven states got rid of this ridiculously lower wage. California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Minnesota, Montana, and Alaska. They require the employer to pay the full minimum wage with tips on top. And we have half the rate of sexual harassment in these states. It proves the point that this is an issue about power.
Because when a woman has power, when she actually gets a wage from her boss, she doesn't have to put up with anything and everything from the customers. And she actually doesn't have to be told by her manager, dress more sexy, show more cleavage, wear tighter clothing to make more money in tips because she doesn't feed her family entirely on tips.
Even better news, there are 500 restaurant owners across the country from Danny Meyer, to Tom Colicchio, Alice Waters, and many more that are working with us to change this policy in many more states. And thanks to Me Too and Time's Up, the Golden Globes, which I was at, and so much more attention that we've gotten over the last few months thanks to the leaders of this movement.
Governor Cuomo just announced, thanks to Me Too, that he will make New York the eighth state to eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers. It is a huge victory. And we're also moving this issue on the ballot in the state of Michigan where we have some of the poorest women in the country working in Detroit and upstate Michigan for $3.52 an hour.
These are women who largely don't vote, feel completely rejected by the political system entirely, are suffering from enormous levels of poverty and sexual harassment, and are excited to go to the polls to vote themselves an actual wage. This is how we're going to turn this country around. By giving these women an actual wage and a voice, and half the rate of sexual harassment.
There is also some bad news. President Trump has announced a new rule that would make tips the property of owners rather than workers. This would exacerbate sexual harassment in our industry by forcing women who already have to put up with harassment from customers to turn around and face it from their managers who now have the right to keep their tips.
But I just told you how we can win. It's women from different sectors standing together and saying, we all face these issues. We all need more power. And together, we can win it. We won it with Governor Cuomo. We can win it in Michigan. We can win it across the country and in every sector. And that is why I'm so happy to be joined by women, sisters, from other sectors as well today.
First I want to introduce Jenna Watanabe, who is a member leader of ROC and also a restaurant worker for 15 years. Also Monica Ramirez. Monica Ramirez who has achieved stardom. She is one of the leaders of the Farm Worker Alliance, has spent her life fighting for women in farm, among farm workers, and actually wrote a letter on behalf of farm workers to Hollywood calling for this kind of solidarity that has led to the victory we're seeing now.
And Mily Sauceda who also-- Trevino-Sauceda, excuse me, who is actually the founder of the Farm Workers Alliance and was a farm worker herself for many years. Thank you so much to all of you for being here with me. Jenna, do you want to start by sharing your own experiences in the restaurant industry?
JENNA WATANABE: Yeah, absolutely. So thank you, Saru, and thank you everyone at the MAKERS Conference for inviting me here. And I just want to call out all the really courageous women and voices that we've been hearing, and also the women that we haven't been able to hear from that may not be able to speak up or raise their voice at this time.
So my background, I worked in restaurants for 15 years. I spent 11 years working as a server in Salt Lake City, Utah and I spent four of those in San Francisco, California. And let me tell you the differences are astonishing. In Salt Lake City, you make $2.13 an hour as a server, which means that all of your income comes from tips. Which means that your income is totally reliant on the kindness of strangers or, in my opinion, the approval of strangers.
When I moved to San Francisco four years ago, that was the first time I actually got paid the same minimum wage as everyone else. Something that was actually above $2 an hour, which started at $10.74 and it's now up to $15 this year. So one of the things that was the most challenging aspect of working in Salt Lake City making $2.13 an hour and working off of tips was dealing with all of the disadvantages that came with that.
So you have income instability. If you are sick for a week, then a quarter of your month's salary is gone. There were four or five months-- it was very seasonal. So there were four or five months where I would be stressed if I could even pay rent. And then probably the most undisclosed but just commonly known is the really, I would say, very sexist undertones that kind of permeate the industry.
Unfortunately, it comes from all different types of people. Not just from the guests, but also from the managers, also from the coworkers. Unfortunately, I have a story that kind of encapsulates this. I was actually taking an order for a family once and I remember asking a little boy how he wanted his steak cooked. And right at that moment I felt this right on my butt.
And I turned and it was a stranger. A man I had never seen before. And he just gave me the sleaziest little, shh. And I didn't know what to do. I was in sever mode. And all I knew was, OK, I have to play it cool. I can't react because if I do, I could lose my job. I could lose tips. I could not make money. So regretfully and painfully, I didn't do anything.
When I went to the back of the kitchen, my behind the scenes, I was met with an even more disappointing response. A lot of my coworkers told me to just take the compliment. A lot of them told me to go out there, ask for money. And unfortunately, one of my managers told me that I should appreciate it while I'm young because when I'm older I'm not going to be getting this kind of attention.
So that was my experience working in fine dining. Imagine what it's like for women that don't work in fine dining. Imagine what it's like for women who are just starting their jobs out. And she was mentioning earlier Applebee's. All those areas, those places where women are starting out and they're just getting exposed to this really toxic culture.
I want to say that a lot of women deal with much more difficult things than what I experienced. And I think it's time that-- well, first of all, I want to acknowledge that there's a lot of restaurant employers that don't respond that way and that they should be honored. But for the ones that are abusive, for the ones that do continue this, that's why I'm a leader in fighting for one fair wage with ROC. Because honestly, the abusiveness of the restaurants' time's up.
SARU JAYARAMAN: This is no less of a problem among farm worker women. And so Monica, we'll start with you. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started with this work and the work [INAUDIBLE]?
MONICA RAMIREZ: Right. Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. I come from a migrant farm worker family. My family's used to crisscross the country working in the fields. Picking cotton, and cucumbers, and other crops. And so both sides of my family, my mother's side of the family and my father's side of the family were able to settle out of agriculture and stay in one place year round, which was in Ohio where I was born and grew up.
And as I was growing up, my parents really wanted us to understand our history, understand where we come from. And specifically, they wanted us to know about the conditions of migrant farm workers. And so they talked to us a lot about the fact that farm workers are underpaid, sprayed with pesticides, exposed to dangerous working conditions.
And growing up hearing all the stories of the things that my family members had gone through working in the fields, that really was what inspired me to dedicate my career and my work to representing migrant farm workers. I went to law school to become a farm worker attorney and in 2002 was able to found the first legal project in the United States specifically focused on representing migrant farm worker women.
Because migrant farm worker women face not just wage theft and being exposed to pesticides and other dangerous conditions, but sexual harassment is a major problem for farm worker women. And the few reports that exist tell us that 80% to 90% of farm worker women say that sexual harassment is a major problem.
And it's so common that the fields are referred to as green motels and fields of panties. And so my work is very much focused on representing farm worker women and joining in solidarity with farm worker women to solve this problem because we know it's one that has long lasting consequences. And so that's how I came to the work.
And in the course of creating the first project that I mentioned to you, which started in Florida, I reached out to Mily Trevino-Sauceda who is my mentor and has been my mentor for almost 20 years. And Mily created the first farm worker women's project in the United States in the state of Florida called [SPANISH].
And really, through Mily's leadership and mentorship, I was able to really kind of find my own voice as an activist and advocate. And because of Mily's vision, a number of us worked together for many years-- you know, almost I guess 20 years, and in Mily's case, for almost 30 years-- specifically focusing on the problems of farm worker women.
And as a result of all the work that we were doing all around the country as lawyers, as social workers, as activists, there was this idea that emerged in 2010 to create the first national farm worker women's organization that would bring all of us together. And so actually, I want to just take a minute to call out the fact that we have some of our hermanas here with us today.
So [INAUDIBLE] from La Mujer Obrera. [? Alvida ?] [? Carbajal ?] from the Farm Worker Association of Florida.
[INAUDIBLE] from the Worker Justice Center of New York. These are just some of our members, but today we now have 17 organizational members around the country, all of whom are working specifically to address the issues that impact farm worker women, and really came from the vision of Mily to organize all of us and bring us together.
And we now work advocating and organizing from the fields to Capitol Hill. And we are pushing to ensure that farm worker women no longer experience workplace sexual violence, but that they also do not have to confront wage theft and some of the other issues that I mentioned.
And so I want to give an opportunity for Mily to talk about her vision and sort of what's brought us here today as a greater movement. So Mily, will you talk to us a little bit about your vision for the farm worker women's movement and how you started it?
MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDA: OK. As Monica said-- gracias, Monica. [SPANISH] I do come from a migrant farm worker family. I did start working as I was eight years old. We were migrants, some of us. We were ten children in our family and it was very, very hard. And we went through so much. Some of us were born in the state of Washington, others in Idaho, and others in Mexico, and it was very, very hard.
So not until we arrived in California was when we, we learned about the United Farm Workers movement. And our family, I was working with my, my father and my brothers picking lemons. It's a hard, very hard labor. You have to as you pick and fill up the sack, it's 90 pounds. And that's 16 of those sacks in the bin.
So we would have to, like, get three, four, or five different bins during the year. The, the day. Excuse me. And not only that, it was all the issues that our families confronted. And not only us, it was the pesticide drift, women being discriminated because if they were pregnant, that you could not, you were not allowed or there were some jobs you were not allowed to, to be in.
And there were just different issues. The exploitation. All that. Our family learned about the UFW and we-- we started organizing with. And UFW was only involved with grape workers and we were lemon pickers, so we, we did that kind of organizing.
And it was a life experience because from there, I wanted to organize everywhere. But of course, in other places I was fired. It was very easy to fire people. Especially women. So but with time, our family was very well known in the Coachella Valley here in California.
And so with time, I started doing other kinds of jobs and then we did a needs assessment with farm worker women in the late '80s. I was an organizer. I was doing a lot of things and, and working with legal services, helping out and whatsoever.
But then when we did this, the needs assessment, it was very, very interesting because the needs assessment was bringing out the issues of farm worker women. The women were sharing their, how they felt. What were their experiences about housing issues, worker related, even harassment.
But they never said it happened to me. It happened to someone else they knew. The domestic violence, the violence against women, the discrimination. Everything was happening to someone else. While I was organizing in the fields, I was sexually harassed not only once, I was sexually harassed many times. And why? Because I was, I was raised very, very, very traditional.
And so when I had the chance or I wanted to talk about what was going on when the person was harassing me, I went to my dad and my dad, bless his heart, he didn't know how to deal with it. So he started instead of asking me, started questioning me. So I silenced myself. I just cried. And from there on, I just didn't want to talk about it.
And it, it happened at other times in the same place, and then in other companies the same thing to the point that I did, I silenced myself. I didn't talk to anybody about it. I was afraid, I was ashamed, I felt shame, all that. And then not until we did the needs assessment-- that was like 10, 10 years after. Or 11 years after.
The women were sharing that that was happening to someone else. And I remember saying the same thing. It happened to someone else. So just to make this shorter-- because people that know me know I talk a lot-- but what, what happened from there on is that the women were sharing stories where it was the first time many of them said, someone was really interested in hearing their story.
And so when we, when they shared that, it was interesting because then they said, we asked them actually, you are sharing with us all these problems and issues. Do you think there, there's, do you have recommendations or you think something can be done?
The majority of them in their own words were saying to me-- oh, mind you, a lot of them were complaining about what was, if the services were being given good, good services, and they all complain about the services. But just at the end they said, if there could be an opportunity for us to organize or actually get together to support each other, to do things, to do something for others, then let's get together.
And that's how we started that movement. We never thought it was going to become a movement. We just wanted to get the women together. And the women themselves-- right now the woman that, one of the women that was the co-founder, one of the co-founders, [INAUDIBLE], she's 96 years old and she's still working with us as one of our organizers.
Talking about since 1988 until now, OK? So I'm very happy for that. We started that movement with the [INAUDIBLE] Campesinas here in California, and this is how we started meeting other women in other parts and met Monica. And then we organized more women and blah, blah, blah. OK, [INAUDIBLE]?
MONICA RAMIREZ: So Mily, what would you, what would your advice be to folks in the room or folks who are watching via live stream about how to get started as an activist from the lessons that you've learned?
MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDA: You know, one of the, one of the biggest things that I would like to share is this. We-- even we, even if we come from the community that we want to be targeting to work with, we're not the saviors. Let's listen. What helped me was listening to what was going on with these women because then they helped organize, help us organize more, more surveys.
And listening, and then believing that they have the strength, and it's about us supporting and helping them so that they can enhance their leadership. It's, it's just, I mean, if we trust, we, we believe in them, we have the patience. I mean, we all are very resilient. So let's believe in each other. Let's trust each other.
Because we are very smart. We're bad ass. And we call ourselves chingones in Spanish, which means bad ass women.
MONICA RAMIREZ: So there are a lot of things that are happening politically, and certainly it's been difficult with some of the immigration enforcement that we're seeing. You know, more than half of migrant farm workers in our country are undocumented. And so for farm worker women who are undocumented, threats of violence against them by perpetrators who use their immigration status is a huge concern.
And it's one that we've been trying to advocate on for a long time to get a new immigration bill passed. So will you tell us a little bit about what you believe some of the priorities are for your industry and what, what members of Congress or other politicians can do to help?
SARU JAYARAMAN: Yes, so first there's something everybody can do, which is that we have an app that tells you how restaurants fare on issues of wages, benefits, and promotion practices. You can find it at our website, rocunited.org. You can use it to communicate with restaurant owners. Say, I love the food here, love the service, but I'd love to see you do better on your wages or I'd love to see you get an award in this app.
But policy wise, you know, as Jenna mentioned and I said, we need one fair wage. We need it. It's such a reasonable request. Let women in this country be paid an actual wage from their employer rather than having to rely on the kindness of customers or tips. Let them have tips above wages as they were always intended to be, and let them keep their tips.
President Trump, let them keep their tips. And we can win that together working together as farm workers and restaurant workers and many other workers across, you know, all of us work. So all of us working together as women to fight for power, greater power and equality on the job.
We just want to close by asking each of us what brings us hope, you know, as we move forward in this work. Do you want to start?
JENNA WATANABE: Sure. I would say something that brings me hope is people that fight for the underdog and really advocate for people who are underrepresented. And then, you know, more importantly, conferences like these that are including voices from all different levels, all different backgrounds. Because let's be honest, it's not feminism unless it's intersectional.
MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDA: I want to read this. And it's short, so, OK. I wrote this. It says, bringing visibility to this issue has opened doors to hope and trust. The power of the collective-- that means that all us, of us working together-- has gone stronger as we work in solidarity to support each other.
We need to support each other. Not just say we're going to collaborate with each other. We will continue strong and we will succeed eradicating the issues that are creating so many problems against us. Let's work together. That's hope. Thank you.
SARU JAYARAMAN: Thank you.
MONICA RAMIREZ: For me, I, all, all of us in this room give me hope, and the fact that we're all here together listening to the issues that impact our lives. And I think certainly from what we saw with Time's Up and what happens at the Golden Globes, of us really looking across sector, across movements to figure out how we can both lean on each other as well as support each other. That gives me hope.
I think that I don't recall ever seeing something like this happen in the way that it's happened in the last couple of months. And I believe that it's by working together and by lifting each other up that we're going to be able to address some of these issues including ending sexual harassment and making sure that people are being paired, paid fair wages. But we have to keep meeting like this, and we have to keep having these conversations in order to make the changes that are required.
SARU JAYARAMAN: Totally. And I would just add what gives me hope is that I have a five and a seven year old, two little girls. And whether they choose to work on a farm and be a farm worker or work in a restaurant, both of which are highly dignified professions with a lot of skill and integrity and should be valued as the professions that they are.
Whatever they choose to do, I will be darned, I will be darned if by the time they grow up they experience what we've experienced or what the women in restaurants and farms experience. I will be darned if all of our daughters experience it because time is up for all of us and for our daughters as well. And I think we can express that power and unity through a unity clap. So Mily, will you lead us in a unity clap?
MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDA: OK. Let's all stand up. All right. The unity clap is that you start clapping slow and then you go quicker and quicker. But then when you do the max, then you go slower, slower, slower, slower. And then we're going to say, can we do it? And you say, yes, we can.
SARU JAYARAMAN: Si, se puede.
MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDA: And then I'll say it in Spanish, si, se puede. You're going to say, si, se puede. OK. Is that too much? OK. All right. OK. Let's start.
Can we do it?
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can!
MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDA: Can we do it?
AUDIENCE: Yes, we can!
MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDA: Se puede!
AUDIENCE: Si, se puede!
MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDA: Se puede!
AUDIENCE: Si, se puede!
MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDA: Thank you. Thank you.
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