Saru Jayaraman: Rights for Restaurant Workers

Ashoka Fellow
United States, North America
Fellow Since 2013
My work: Transforming the restaurant industry's employment practices by aligning worker, employer & consumer interests.

Citation

This profile was prepared when Saru Jayaraman was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.
The New Idea
Saru is leading a national movement to improve the working conditions and upward mobility of people working all along the food chain—most of whom have the lowest paying jobs in the country and no benefits.

This dead-end pattern has come to seem inevitable. The employers’ association resists anything that would increase costs. The few labor groups and training programs are minute and fractured.

Saru is creating a new alignment of forces that, amazingly, promises serious change.

She succeeded in early litigations but realized that that could only move a handful of sand on a broad beach.

She brought in consumers as key allies—a game-changing new force. She appeals both to their sense of fairness and their self-interest. For example, it is not great for consumers that having no provisions for sick leave means that unhealthy workers are handling their food. She has built a mass consumer organization, Engaged Eater’s Table, to drive this work.

At least as important, she is bringing in growing numbers of owners as allies. She does top quality university-based analyses that show that the High Road she advocates pays. She convenes them in city Roundtables. She helps them with sensitivity training and other supports.

To the degree that Saru’s realignment can work for restaurants, it invites emulation in other sectors.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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