The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) is dedicated to seeking improved wages and working conditions for restaurant workers nationwide. Founded in New York City after September 11, 2001, to provide support to restaurant workers displaced as a result of the destruction of the World Trade Center, ROC United has grown into a national organization of 130,000 restaurant workers, “high road” restaurant employers, and consumers working together to realize a vision of a food system that includes sustainable wages and working conditions for the people who cook, prepare, and serve our food.
Centering justice within restaurants—for both workers and patrons—has cultural as well as political implications. ROC United is working to change perceptions of restaurant work, dining culture, and how restaurant workers should be treated as professionals. Through this grant, ROC United will research the best narrative strategies for producing pop culture content, while simultaneously advancing content production partnerships and narrative strategies for a suite of television, film, and web series focused on experiences of low-wage restaurant workers, with a formalized role for ROC United in consulting and production. Finally, ROC will formalize and expand its Narrative Brain Trust—a group of trusted advisors—to work with the organization to continue to discuss and assess the narrative strategy and brainstorm how to seize narrative opportunities.
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“The goal of this project is to tell the stories of the women, youth, immigrants, and people of color who make up the vast majority of the restaurant industry. These workers face the highest levels of sexual harassment in any industry and staggering occupational segregation by race and gender. But they also reflect the fun, the teamwork, and the remarkable perseverance that binds our diverse country together. Since 1 in 2 adult Americans have worked in a restaurant, we know sharing these stories will be an incredibly powerful way to shift popular understandings of not just the restaurant industry but a range of issues like economic mobility, sexism, racism, immigration, and many other topics central to our society today.” – Saru Jayaraman, President