By Gainesville Restaurant Workers Alliance
Eight employees of local Asian-American restaurant Tasty Buddha announced to their shift manager that they would not be clocking in July 20 because the funds linked to their paychecks were not available on payday. In lieu of washing dishes, taking orders, and chopping vegetables, we would announce our strike, walk a picket line, and encourage boycott of the business. Shortly after, the owner Parker Van Hart arrived to inform us that we all have lost our jobs for not clocking in. The strikers corrected him by simply stating, “Actually, we are on strike right now, protected under federal labor law (National Labor Relations Act). You firing us would be illegal.”
Knowing our rights was vital to the success of our story. The immense community support sustained us: the Industrial Workers of the World brought us water, sunscreen, snacks, and solidarity on the picket line. Individuals with labor experience and members of the ISO had our back. Staffers of bigger unions were always a phone call away to answer any questions.
After being booted off the property that Saturday morning, we took to NW 43rd St., holding signs and passing out informational leaflets. Our goal was to thwart business (including regular customers who backed us completely), and use the boycott as a bargaining chip.
We were simply asking to be listened to. We give our time and effort into an industry where we comply with management’s rules, maintain the restaurant according to standards, and work hard to serve good food everyday. We could have easily quit and found other work but instead showed our commitment by trying to make improvements in our workplace.
Furthermore, our efforts resisted the stereotype that food industry jobs are “temporary”, which has somehow come to justify the mistreatment of workers in this sector. “If you don’t like it, find another job”, we are told. This mentality is borne out of a society that views workers as being disposable and replaceable. Does this mean we are meant to ignore sexual harassment, late pay, or be forced to work while sick? The strike was meant to represent an alternative: organizing collectively to show the naysayers and owners that the workers should be respected, treated as human beings because it is in fact the financially mistreated workers who run the show on a day-to-day basis.
One week of picketing produced an agreement beneficial to both parties. The most astounding win being that the owner voluntarily recognized our union, Gainesville Restaurant Workers Alliance. Above all, the former strikers appreciate the reasonable dialogue between workers and owner, as opposed to filing paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board, and the owner having to deal with a pricey labor lawyer.
We realized our story could become a catalyst for something beneficial to all of Gainesville. Currently, the workers of Tasty Buddha are still taking steps to better the restaurant, encouraging co-workers to get involved in the union, and are in communication with the owner regularly. Furthermore, everyone should patronize this union-friendly eatery!
Since our successful strike and our return to work, we have been contacted by dozens of other restaurant workers who have been mistreated at some point in their professional lives. Our strike brought to light many issues that are considered the status quo in the service industry. It is one of the GRWA’s goals to show solidarity and share resources for those workers seeking to improve their work conditions. Together, we can make Gainesville a more fair and just place for restaurant workers.