Community Highlight: ROC United

Like many fundraisers that started after the widespread damage COVID-19 inflicted on the restaurant community, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United was previously dedicated to improving the working conditions for restaurant employees. ROC United, a nonprofit seeking improved wages and safer, more supportive work environments for all, has chapters across the U.S.A. including in New York, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago and more.

The ROC United Disaster Relief Fund supports restaurant workers of all backgrounds and walks of life who have lost their jobs or otherwise been negatively affected by the global pandemic. Through donations big and small, they’re raising $3M to support the individuals who depend on them. They provide direct financial assistance and also promote other available resources such as local, state and federal assistance programs.

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Who are the ROC?

This nonprofit organization seeks to end workplace discrimination and biases, improve the health and welfare of restaurant employees, and promote better working conditions by raising both funds and awareness. They seek to recognize and amend some of the inequality in the industry.

Racial inequality

In any industry where workers rely on tips instead of a steady, livable wage, they often have to overlook and bear inappropriate behavior, harassment and discrimination in order to make money. Better wages help businesses and individuals put a stop to unfair and insensitive behavior.

Undocumented immigrants often have to submit themselves to similar work environments, an issue compounded by the lack of social programs available to them. Even now, when COVID-19 threatens an unprecedented number of people’s livelihoods, undocumented workers don’t have access to the same unemployment benefits and stimulus checks as documented workers do. With even less opportunities available to them and no safety net in place, keeping their job is even more critical. The ROC documents and addresses racial inequality on a systemic level.

Sexism in the industry

As always when gender and race intersect, different women have different experiences. However, the ROC advocates for all women across the board as they fight to make the service industry safer. Some of the causes they fight for include:

  • Raising the minimum wage to protect women from sexual harassment. Just like a living wage means that people of color can protest racist discrimination without fear of backlash, women in the industry can more effectively prevent inappropriate behavior when speaking out doesn’t affect the wages that they need to survive.
  • Sexual harassment often either forces women out of their jobs or traps them in unsafe work environments, because many don’t have economic security or a safe avenue to pursue reparations. Eliminating tipped wages gives them the power to protect themselves.

Most tipped employees work in the restaurant, leisure and hospitality industries. Women in these positions make up 14% of sexual harassment claims—that’s more than any other industry, and double the statistics for the general workforce.

Better overall working conditions

Amongst these other agendas, the ROC dedicates themselves to making safer, more inclusive workplace conditions for all restaurant employees. This means:

  • Supporting fair and predictable scheduling practices. Many restaurant workers, particularly those new to the industry, get less than one week’s notice about their upcoming schedule.
  • Eliminating the tipped minimum wage of $2.13/hr and putting all tipped workers on a full minimum wage salary.
  • Improving employee health and safety conditions by passing a sick day standard, promoting benefits and supporting vacation days for restaurant workers.

To help achieve their goals, ROC United works with One Fair Wage campaign, an organization who launched their own post-COVID fundraising initiative and combats wage theft, promotes supportive legislation and writes petitions to politicians. Their COVID-19 fund supports tipped workers in the industry, with a set goal of $213K to raise awareness about the federal tipped minimum wage.

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What is the ROC Disaster Relief Fund?

As stated on their website, “The nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United has set a target of $3M for its emergency relief fund, which seeks to help documented and undocumented restaurant workers who lose their jobs during the pandemic.”

Why did they start?

Restaurant workers all over the world lost their jobs when the COVID-19 pandemic forced mass closures for all nonessential businesses.  Many of them had meager savings, if any. Thus the ROC launched their Disaster Relief Fund with an initial goal of $500K, a target that has since increased to $3M as they work to provide money and resources to the laid off workers struggling the hardest.

They want to do their part assisting undocumented workers as well as documented ones, an initiative that few other funds have clearly stated as one of their goals. With unemployment sky high and undocumented workers ineligible to receive benefits for it, the ROC Disaster Relief Fund seeks to provide them with that assistance. Additionally, undocumented immigrants didn’t qualify for the stimulus check released to Americans in April 2020, and neither did their spouses if they filed joint taxes—even if though 1.2M undocumented immigrants are married to legal citizens.

The Fund aims to give food service industry workers the necessary financial relief to ease some of this unprecedented burden affecting families all over the country.

How you can help

Like many COVID-19 relief efforts, the ROC United Disaster Relief Fund accepts direct donations. The lowest suggested amount is $50 but they accept any contribution, big or small, that you can afford. Every bit helps and together we can all support those most vulnerable in our communities. ROC United also invites others to join the cause with opportunities for both worker and ally memberships; workers can connect with others in the service industry and learn more about the initiative, and community members can learn other ways to help. Workers can also submit their applications to receive funding online.

Visit the ROC United website to learn more about how you can contribute to restaurant workers in need and to get involved with the program.

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