Saru Jayaraman

The Champion for Fair Wages Among All Minorities

Saru Jayaraman doesn’t worry about being called a “difficult” woman. That’s because the attorney, UC Berkeley academic and author knows being labeled as such just means she’s strong. And she is. The child of Indian immigrants is co-founder of the nonprofit public service organization Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, battling for fair wages among women, LGBTQ people and all minorities.

When did you realize what you wanted to do in your life?

“In high school, I witnessed injustices experienced by my own parents and my friends and their families, and knew that I wanted to fight for my community—working-class people, especially people of color.”

What’s your biggest accomplishment to date?

“When, in late 2017, the National Restaurant Association partnered with President Trump to try to make tips the property of owners rather than workers, we mobilized 400,000 restaurant workers, employers and consumers to win a bipartisan bill in Congress that protects tips as the property of workers, now and forever.”

What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your job that they probably don’t?

“We work with 130,000 workers, employers and consumers together to win better wages and working conditions. Most people probably don’t know that a) the subminimum wage for tipped workers is still $2.13 an hour in 2018 and is a legacy of slavery, and b) that hundreds of restaurant owners, large and small, high and low profile, support providing livable wages to restaurant workers because they see that it improves their bottom line.”

What are you most grateful for?

“I am most grateful for an incredible team of organizational staff, worker, employer and consumer members, allies and funders. Together we will win a better world, not just for restaurant workers, but for all people.”

What does being a woman mean to you today?

“I tell my daughters that being a woman means you are brave, powerful, smart and strong—and that they can truly achieve anything, but must be willing to fight for it.”

What advice do you have for other women working toward their own dreams?

“Don’t let anyone’s comments or opinion of you stop you from doing what you know is right. If words like ‘difficult’ are the terms they use for today’s strong women, and if what that really means is fighting for the advancement of all people, then we should accept those names with pride.”

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