Community “dines in” to support Spartanburg restaurant’s workers

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On April 1, more than 50 community members from Boiling Springs and Spartanburg took part in a “dine-in” at Copper River Grill to support the servers, bartenders, hostess, and other workers as they fight for a voice on the job and the right of self representation at work. Community members wore stickers that read “I SUPPORT THE WORKERS OF COPPER RIVER GRILL.”

The action coincides with the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s march with sanitation workers demanding union recognition in Memphis, where he delivered his famous last “Promised Land Speech” before being assassinated on April 4, 1968.

When SC AFL-CIO President Ken Riley met with workers this weekend, he said, “We are with these workers because what Copper River is doing is undermining the fundamental pillars of the work force in America. They are taking us back to the 1920s.”

“I serve food to people all day, but I make barely enough to get by,” said Victoria Ballard, who has been at Copper River for three years. “I am a single mother, and I have to think about the future of my 9-month-old son. Is it too much to ask that a working mother gets paid enough to put food on my own table without having to rely on food stamps?”

Restaurant workers at Copper River Grill have filed more than a dozen federal charges, including harassment, coercion, surveillance, interrogation, discrimination, and retaliation.

“I joined the “dine-in” to show support for these workers’ rights and reasonable demands,” said Spartanburg Rep. Harold Mitchell, Co-chair of the SC Progressive Network. “It’s wrong for corporations to rely on taxpayers to subsidize their low-wage, high-profit policies.”

Mitchell, who is also Chair of the SC Legislative Black Caucus, pledged to introduce legislation to protect often exploited service workers. “It’s against federal law to fire someone for organizing for better pay or working conditions. We need to require bosses to have a “just cause” to take someone’s livelihood away from them.”

“Apparently, Copper River thinks that the taxpayers are responsible for paying its workers,” Spartanburg resident Russell Bannan, an organizer for SC Jobs with Justice, the group spearheading the event. “That’s what Copper River is saying when it pays hard-working employees starvation wages.”

Community organizations participating in the “dine-in” included Jobs with Justice, SC AFL-CIO, Communication Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, SC Progressive Network, and others.

South Carolina Jobs with Justice Organizing Committee is a statewide campaign for workers’ rights. Around the country, local Jobs with Justice Coalitions unite labor, community, faith-based, and student organizations to build power for working people.

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