How a brigade of kitchen workers got back what had been stolen from them, and then some.
By Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Magazine
March 30, 2015
Even after Zhen LI leads a rousing chant—“Workers organize, everybody wins!”—no one else wants to step up to the microphone. Tiny and bespectacled, her hair in a jet-black bob, Li has the look of a Chinatown matron, one of those tenacious hagglers who elbows her way through the crowds on Stockton Street to purchase jade-green gai lan and silvery carp. Wearing jeans, sturdy black shoes, and a puffy striped jacket, she exhorts her fellow proletarians to join her up front and holds out the mic to a nearby woman. The woman tries to beg off, pleading, “I’m sick—my throat hurts,” but cheers draw her to her feet, and she sheepishly echoes Li’s rallying cry.
On this rainy evening in early December at the Chinese Cultural Center, Li and dozens of workers—mostly women, mostly middle-aged and older— are celebrating with greasy takeout, cake, a slideshow, and speeches. While some are clearly shy about speaking in public, they are no longer scared. They’ve already achieved the impossible: Their solidarity has won them an astonishing sum—$4 million—from a powerful employer that had systematically undercut their wages, pocketed their tips, and forced them to work under brutal conditions.[...]
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