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Employee advocates honor exceptional restaurant workplaces

Employee advocates honor exceptional restaurant workplaces

Afoodservice employee advocacy group and union proponent that has been highly critical of New York City operators for their treatment of workers recently honored a handful of restaurants that offer such employee benefits as health care and paid sick leave.

“There are a lot of good employers out there that are not only in compliance with all the employment laws, but go above and beyond,” said Rekha Eanni-Rodriguez, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, or ROC-NY.

The organization was founded in 2002 to support restaurant workers displaced after the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center. ROC-NY has been accused of fostering labor violation lawsuits against some New York operators, and led pickets and demonstrations in front of restaurants. ROC-NY also has released reports critical of the industry in New York, citing low wages, poor working conditions and patterns of discrimination.

Despite an often adversarial role in the city’s restaurant industry, ROC-NY helped start the NYC Restaurant Industry Roundtable, a group of about 50 restaurant owners, workers and local government officials who meet quarterly to address workplace issues.

The NYC Restaurant Industry Roundtable developed a code of conduct outlining a standard for employee treatment, from health benefits and multilingual training manuals to procedures for grievances and career advancement, in addition to local and federal labor laws.

To highlight those operators who ROC-NY and the NYC Restaurant Industry Roundtable said make employees’ rights a priority, the two groups presented the Exceptional Workplace awards to eight New York restaurants earlier this month: One if by Land, Two if by Sea; Colors; Crema; Raw Soul; K-Dog and Dune Buggy; Las Chicas Locas; and La Palapa Cocina Mexicana.

“There are owners doing the right thing, and we wanted to find a way to show the public that this exists,” Eanni-Rodriguez said.

The honorees, all members of the roundtable, met the code’s standards. They and other New York eateries that adhere to the code are listed in the roundtable’s New York City Diner’s Guide to High Road Restaurants, which was released to the public. Restaurants listed in the guide will receive stickers for their windows to indicate to customers their proactive employment practices.

Some of the award winners said they were drawn to work with ROC-NY because of a similar interest in employee welfare.

“We already believe in and were doing a lot of the things that are a part of the guidelines, so it wasn’t a stretch for us,” said Barbara Sibley, chef and co-owner with chef Margaritte Malfy of La Palapa, which has locations in Manhattan’s East and West Villages.

Keeping an open dialogue with employees, listening to their problems and issues, and helping them where possible has helped keep the turnover low in both restaurants, Sibley said.

“You realize the impact you have as an employer,” she said. “People come to me years later and say, ‘If you hadn’t given me that job, I do not know where I’d be today.’ You are responsible for the people that are working for you.”

The more than 30-year-old One if by Land, Two if By Sea offers health insurance, paid sick leave and a 401(k) plan to its employees, as well as personal interest-free loans to workers in need, said general manager Roseanne Martino.

“We started this roundtable before any of the labor disputes had come to light,” Martino said. “The main focus is to make sure there is a fair workplace. I think the more ROC-NY became known, the more workers felt they could bring to light issues.”— [email protected]

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