Submitted on Mon, 03/13/2017 - 5:07pm
By Chilli Sauce - Libcom.Org, March 5, 2017
Ellen's Stardust Diner is a New York institution, a place where Broadway actors not only wait tables, but sing show tunes while they're at it. It's also the site of an ongoing labor dispute that has seen mass firings, strikes, protests, and picket lines that have turned away early morning food deliveries.
The employees at Ellen's have been organizing with the IWW for much of the past year. Their union, Stardust Family United, has been out on the streets, raising their voices and raising their fists to defend and improve working conditions.
Many Stardusters have worked at the restaurant on and off for years. To hear them tell it, Ellen's used to be a pretty nice place to work. Management were accommodating when it came to taking time off to be in a show. And despite the large numbers of wait staff and the time they take off for stage work, Ellen's was a tight-knit community. It was a place where workers developed their talents and built friendships that spanned decades.
All that changed last year when new management was brought in.
Managers ceased to be accommodating when it came to taking time off. Workers who raised safety issues or complained of sexual harassment were ignored or, worse yet, pushed out of the restaurant. Long-term workers, some whom had racked up years of service in the double digits, were unceremoniously let go.
So the idea came about to form a union. Workers contacted a couple of local unions and the IWW proved the most responsive, quickly arranging an organizer training for the Stardust staff. The workers found the IWW's model of solidarity unionism, which stresses rank-and-file control and a direct action approach to organizing, to be an asset to the solidarity they'd already built up in the workplace.
For a while, organizing occurred under the radar. Issues of health and safety were raised and workers used the internal communication system to pressure management. Workers also organized a successful march on the boss to get their tip bucket back and it was after this point the workers decided to go public as a union. The venue through which they chose to do this: The New York Times.
Workers hadn't filed for a labor board election, instead demanding owner Ken Sturm deal with them directly.