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A Living Wage and Beyond: Lawyering for Fair Play and Workplace Safety in the Restaurant Industry

November 12, 2013 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Nearly one in ten Americans is employed in the restaurant industry, where workers are often denied a living wage, paid sick days, health benefits, safe working conditions, and a voice on the job. Restaurant workers are three times as likely to live in poverty, with average salaries of $9/hour and the federal minimum wage for tipped workers—such as waiters and bartenders—frozen at $2.13/hour for over twenty years. Restaurant workers rely on SNAP benefits (food stamps) at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce, and 87% of these workers do not have earned paid sick days.
But restaurant workers and their advocates are finding new ways to come together and have their voices heard in one of the nation’s fastest growing sectors of the economy. Join the Harvard Food Law Society and the Harvard Labor and Employment Action Project as a panel of consumer advocates, employment lawyers, and labor law experts discuss how attorneys can create effective models for worker and consumer advocacy, including alternative ownership structures and new forms of workplace representation. It’s time justice is served!
Featuring panelists:
  • Johnda (Jonnee) Bentley, Assistant General Counsel for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Washington, DC
Ms. Bentley joined the SEIU with seven years experience at the National Labor Relations Board. She focuses on NLRB issues and currently coordinates the union’s legal work for fast food campaigns. Ms. Bentley will discuss the deficiencies in existing labor law that led to a national movement among fast-food workers, touching upon the need to advocate through unconventional means. She will speak to the peculiar challenges of organizing a franchised industry and identify new models of workplace representation.
  • Shannon Liss-Riordan (‘96), Partner, Lichten & Liss-Riordan, P.C., Part-Owner, Just Crust Pizzeria
Among her many high-profile cases in the fields of labor, employment and class action law, Ms. Liss-Riordan represented restaurant workers at the Upper Crust Pizzeria. Facing massive fines for egregious wage and hour abuse, the company filed for bankruptcy. After this turn of events, Ms. Liss-Riordan decided to buy the Harvard Square location out of the bankruptcy auction and create a part worker-run pizza shop that pays fair wages and aims to serve as a model for restaurants that care about their employees. She renamed the restaurant The Just Crust. Ms. Liss-Riordan will speak to the power and limits of employment law, the need for advocates to think beyond traditional litigation methods, and her experience establishing The Just Crust. 
  • Alexandre Galimberti, Restaurant Worker, Lead Organizer, Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of Boston
Mr. Galimberti has built a career in the restaurant industry, having worked just about every job you can find in the kitchen. He has a master of liberal arts degree in Gastronomy (Boston University) and an associate of occupational studies from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Mr. Galimberti is also responsible for launching the Boston chapter of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United. He will speak about his personal experiences as a restaurant worker in the industry and the role of consumer advocacy in advancing workers’ rights and protections.
Moderated by Alli Condra, Clinical Fellow, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.
Co-sponsored by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, the Black Law Students Association (BLSA), HLS Lambda, Project No One Leaves, HLS American Constitution Society, HLS Advocates for Human Rights, National Lawyers Guild – HLS Chapter, Unbound: Harvard Journal of the Legal Left, and the generous support of HL Central’s T.J. Duane Community Development Grant.


November 12, 2013
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


Harvard Law School – WCC 3019