Meet Saru Jayaraman

Every employee’s worst nightmare.

Saru Jayaraman has made a career out of bullying those in the restaurant industry who don’t comply with the standards set by her and her organization the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC). But, it turns out Saru has a reputation for not practicing what she preaches.

What They’re Saying

One former ROC employee who had the (dis)pleasure of working with Saru, had this warning for new employees, “[Be prepared to be] talked down to, disrespected, and condescended by their golden girl president (who has NO restaurant experience).”

Another ex-employee had this to say about working for Saru and ROC, “I’m not sure how an organization that is so internally disorganized, disconnected and treats it’s employees so poorly could ever achieve it’s [sic] mission to enhance the rights of workers in a completely different sector.”

Career Highlights

2007

  • A group of former workers filed a lawsuit against Saru and the Restaurant Opportunities Center. Saru and ROC were accused of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and forcing employees to perform “sweat equity” without pay. 

2011

  • Colors Restaurant, founded by Saru, is cited 38 violation points by the New York Department of Health. Violations included “evidence of mice or live mice” in food prep areas.

2012

  • The United States House of Representatives opened an oversight investigation on ROC calling into question the group’s federal funding.

2017

  • Saru’s Colors Restaurant closes after no longer being able to sustain the business model that she advocates for.

2017

  • Saru and ROC are dealt a massive blow when the Maine Legislature and Gov. LePage restored the states tip-credit just one year after it had been repealed.

2018

  • The Washington D.C. City Council and Mayor deliver a massive defeat to Saru and ROC when they repealed Proposition 77– a measure which would have eliminated the tip credit in the city. Saru and ROC sponsored and financially backed the measure.

2019

  • A former ROC employee publishes an expose titled “ROC Confidential,” detailing the abusive and hypocritical nature of Saru’s organization.

Lawsuits by Former Employees

One of Saru’s largest projects, Colors NYC, has been described by former employees as “one of the most abusive” restaurants in New York City. At its founding, Saru promised workers co-ownership in exchange for working long hours of “‘sweat equity’ without pay.” Seven of these workers later sued after Saru and her partners allegedly broke their promise, and even expelled the workers who dared to voice their grievances.

Workers alleged that intimidation tactics were deployed to silence them. One plaintiff was blunt: “They were doing the stuff that union busters do.” The workers’ attorney described ROC as “very top-down in the worst fashion of left dictatorial politics.” 

 

Hypocrisy

Late Paychecks

The New York Times profiled the “misadventures” of ROC’s restaurant Colors NYC, and found a trail of disaffected staff who left after not being paid on time. One employee interviewed by The Times, whose paychecks from ROC were arriving late, described his experience: “[ROC’s] point of view isn’t working right now, so I don’t want to be on a sinking ship when I also have bills to pay.” Confronted by The Times about her organization’s failings, Saru downplayed it with a passive response: “I’m sure mistakes were made, things were challenging.” 

A review left on Glassdoor.com by a former employee warns, “Be prepared to be constantly $1,000 out of pocket and wait months for reimbursements.” The same employee continued, “Be prepared to see tens of thousands of dollars flushed down the toilet and then told you won’t be getting reimbursed for your phone bill or parking.”

Union Busting

In an expose titled “ROC Confidential,” a former ROC employee described his experience working for ROC’s COLORS location in Detroit. Staffers noticed a disconnect; while ROC demanded that other companies provide benefits such as paid leave, ROC wasn’t providing a similar set of benefits to COLORS staff.

The ROC employee signed workers at COLORS up for the staff union and asked ROC for voluntary recognition. The next week, ROC shut down the restaurant. He described his disappointment: “Because ROC was a self-proclaimed advocate for workers’ rights, [I thought] that they would never union-bust their own people.”

Mistreatment

  • A former employee, who was used by Saru to fundraise for her restaurant Colors NYC, said, “I came to ROC everyday, sometimes as early as six. I worked all day. I was told I would get paid, but they never gave me anything. Instead, I’d get back to ROC at the end of the day and ask for enough to buy a subway fare home. They refused even that.” 
  • The same employee, whose primary language is Spanish, also said that despite her being able to speak English, she was encouraged by Saru to continue speaking in Spanish to “make a more sympathetic case for donations.”
  • Despite her claims of seeking social justice, one employee said that he often heard disturbing statements from Saru. In one instance in particular, Saru reportedly said, “We don’t want white people here. We don’t work with white people.”   
  • “Without a doubt, it is the most toxic environment because you’re beaten down for wanting to do your actual job,” said one former employee of the organization. They continued, “Morale is very low. Seemingly everyone, except top management, openly grumbles about their low pay, lack of reimbursement, poor work conditions, disrespectful management and dim prospects.”
  • One ex-employee who reportedly worked for ROC full-time had this advice for potential new employees, “There are other non-profits, worker centers, and unions that do comparable work for worker and gender justice that don’t necessarily subject you to the type of emotional humiliation, duress and abuse that you might encounter here.”

Misconduct

According to a report by the Washington Free Beacon, Saru and ROC paid for the services of an accused sexual harasser to lead a campaign against sexual harassment. Trevor Fitzgibbon, owner and founder of Fitzgibbon Media, was forced to shutter operations after facing more than half a dozen allegations of sexual harassment, two of which included allegations of assault. Saru and ROC have declined to comment on this matter. 

A former employee described a culture of being “berated for not meeting ever-changing goals.” They continued, “Worse, we are not actually helping any restaurant workers. I’ve been bullied by my current manager to fudge numbers, and I’ve witnessed the top executive/spokesperson be repeatedly dishonest.” 

Bad Reviews

  • One former employee of ROC said that part of the problem with working for Saru and ROC is that it required “a total embrace of Jayaraman’s radicalism.” He continued, “Saru thinks of herself as a workers’ Che Guevara, but she’s really a Stalin.” 
  • ROC’s reviews on the workplace website Glassdoor.com are poor. One former employee called their time working for Saru and ROC “traumatizing.”  The same employee continued to lambast the organization for their rank hypocrisy saying, “You would expect an organization that champions workers’ rights to care more about [their own] workers’ rights and welfare. Most staff work ridiculous hours that don’t [sic] reflect the pay.” 
  • A similar sentiment was shared by another former employee who detailed the hypocrisy of Saru saying, “It’s interesting that the organization externally speaks so much about the plight of workers (restaurant workers), but internally has no consideration for its own workers.”
  • Another former employee described ROC as having “an extremely toxic and unprofessional environment,” and went on to say that they find it “interesting that the organization externally speaks so much about the plight of [restaurant workers], but internally has no consideration for its own workers.”