Moyers & Company

Season 3, Episode 13 of 52

You've heard about the wave of protests against fast food chains like McDonald's and Burger King where employees are forced to live on next to nothing. Workers in regular, sit-down restaurants are also penalized. Back in 1991, the National Restaurant Association - often called "the other NRA" -- passed around enough campaign contributions to persuade Congress to set the Federal minimum wage for waiters, busboys, and bartenders at only $2.13 an hour. They claim that tips are additional income that makes up the difference. But tips are random and often meager. Restaurant workers struggling to earn a living are twice as likely to be on public assistance. This week on Moyers & Company (check local listings), Bill Moyers talks with Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of ROC-United -- the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, whose 13,000 members across the country are fighting for better wages and working conditions. Because ROC has been making headway, they've got powerful enemies, including Rick Berman, a Washington-based lawyer and p.r. man, dubbed "Dr. Evil" by 60 Minutes, who specializes in industry-funded attack campaigns against health and safety regulations, the minimum wage and organized labor. "In any other context, what is it called when an employer practically doesn't pay their workers, full-time workers? It's called slavery," Saru Jayaraman tells Moyers. "... And so how is it that a major industry has basically convinced America, convinced Congress, that they practically shouldn't have to pay their workers at all? It's purely money and power. And their control over our legislators." But she remains hopeful: "There's nothing that people cannot achieve once they expose those forces and once they resist... We can actually overcome even the most hardened, monied lobbyists in Washington, DC, or in states around the country. Because ultimately, if we are a true democracy, we cannot cede our democratic powers to these people." Saru Jayaraman is also director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of Behind the Kitchen Door.

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