Photo: José Negroni
A group of servers who serenade patrons at Time Square’s Ellen Stardust have now, formed a union with–wait for it–the Wobblies (a nickname for the Industrial Workers of the World).
After they unionized earlier this year as Stardust Family United, the owner, Ken Strum, said, Dream on–and wrecked the lives of over 30 staffers by firing them. Now they are picketing outside the venue weekly while singing old union and railroad songs. The waitstaff, consisting of aspiring Broadway actors, decided to organize when new policies prohibited them from easily switching shifts to attend auditions.
“We want to be clear that all of our terminations have been for valid reasons,” said Mr. Strum. “They have been perfectly appropriate under federal and labor laws.”
Stardust Family United has filed multiple Unfair Labor Practices with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for violations ranging from threats and intimidation to mass terminations. An investigation is ongoing. This all came about when Stardust Family United was referred by the Wobblies to their lawyer, Ben Dictor.
The artists are refusing to accept what’s happened and so they’ve set out to show themselves as the good guys, in hopes of being portrayed that way in the media (the great privilege of having the First Amendment). And along with a Democratic-led NLRB, organized labor can also sometimes be life’s only recourse for mistreated employees. All the while, workers and sympathizers have been holding sip-ins to voice their concerns.
“Basically, supporters of the movement organized tables of people to go into the restaurant during the dinner rush, to order small and tip big!” said Kristine Bogan, a terminated employee turned picketer. “They chanted and passed out flyers to customers inside, even joining in on the song ‘Union Maid,’ which we often sing now. “
Other locals have started showing up at the venue to manifest their support for the waiters, also known as stardusters. Activists from the clerical workers’ history-rich OPEIU’s Local 153 literally froze tourists, police officers, and security guards outside of the 1950s-themed diner when they began, rather plainly, to sing Utah Phillips and Pete Seeger songs. Once all the rallygoers began singing in unison, the people’s history in the lyrics became fervently dramatized as in a Broadway musical.