Beyond speaking about his experience with the One Fair Wage campaign, guest speaker Alondo Reeves explained the struggles of being an activist and how it can wear on students during their time in and out of college. Reeves was invited to speak to a group of Knox students, juniors Jo Hill, Grace LaDuca, sophomore Isaac Hughes and freshman Poornima Tata on April 18 on behalf of the four student activists. Reeves explained how the One Fair Wage group fights for equal wages for restaurant workers and to educate students on the importance of earning a living wage.
Restaurant Organization Center (ROC) was formed after 9/11 when the founder of the organization and four other people lost their jobs when the twin towers collapsed. They decided to form a restaurant where they could train workers to do two things: to learn to be activists and to learn the basic skills for working in a restaurant. They also wanted the workers to have the right to a fair wage in a restaurant.
“When you talk about living wage versus a tip, if I have to go and earn my living every day based on tips, then that means I have nothing consistent. I can’t say every two weeks, I’ve got $400 coming. On any given day I might make $5 or $100,” Reeves said.
The four Knox students, and Knox Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Ben Farrer all adopted this campaign after the co-founder of ROC, Sara Jayaraman, came to speak during Fall Term.
“People really wanted to help out. It was one of those where the talk ended but the conversation didn’t, so gradually everyone was circling around the table and the podium,” Farrer said. “And we eventually moved over [to the Gizmo] and we eventually decided we’re really gonna do something.”
Each one of the four students has been involved in an independent student with Farrer. Last term they presented at the Bioneers Conference about the topic and took a group of students to Springfield to lobby at the capitol.
“This is a good opportunity for you to get involved in where you could make a real difference,” Farrer said.
The Alumni Room in Old Main was filled with interested students and faculty asking questions about the project. Reeves explained that eight states have already adopted the One Fair Wage, making the wage for all restaurant workers $15 by the year 2025, Illinois is one of the next states that ROC is working on, but they need to gain a supportive following first.
The students wanted to get involved after they heard about how the restaurant industry affects women, and particularly women of color. An industry that is based around tips encourages sexual harassment, and many women will let it happen if it means keeping their lights on and feeding their families.
“The restaurant industry in totality is based on tips so if I’m trying to get the biggest tip I need to be the most entertaining person. If I think you’ve got a bunch of money and you tap me on the butt, I’m gonna accept it because I think you’re gonna give me a $50 tip, but that’s not an acceptable behavior,” Reeves said.
Reeves also discussed how student activists are likely to get burnt out when in college. He encouraged the faculty and students to stay motivated while fighting the system.
“We gonna live until we live and then we’re gone. So during that period, we either decide to be a part of the change or to accept it,” Reeves said.
Farrer noticed that many of the students at the talk are at the front-lines of activist organizations on campus.
“It was really inspiring to hear from someone who has been in the game for decades still inspired and still wanting to do things. To hear that the way he’s done it is just by building relationships and friends with people, taking risks, getting good at delegating [is inspiring],” Farrer said.
Next, Farrer and the students are organizing to go to Chicago in late May to support ROC in their counterprotest against the National Restaurant Association. The students are hopeful that a bill will be introduced before the school year ends.
“Ideally, while we are still in school they would introduce a bill in the state legislature and that will be our main focus whenever that does happen, in the meantime to we are just trying to raise awareness of the issue and educating people,” Hill said.