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September 24, 2020 63 mins

Baratunde wonders what today’s labor movement looks like and how workers are responding to the unprecedented consolidation of corporate power across all industries from tech to agriculture to retail. He learns how our economy and our democracy are impacted by these extremes. Saru Jayaraman speaks to the Davida and Goliath power dynamics in the restaurant industry, the origins of the $2.13 per hour minimum wage for tipped workers, and the progress of One Fair Wage. Michelle Miller of reimagines how we can be agents of our economy instead of objects in the economy. 

Show Notes + Links

We are grateful to Saru Jayaraman and Michelle Miller for joining us for this episode. 

Follow @sarujayaraman and @michelleimiller on Twitter and their organizations and

You can find this episode, a transcript, show notes and the full set of actions at

Please show your support for the show in the form of a review and rating. It makes a huge difference with the algorithmic overlords!



Reflect on your role as a worker in the context of the larger economy and ask these questions:

  • Is the value I create for people in my community, society, or the environment through my work accurately reflected in how I’m compensated?
  • What are the impacts on society and our collective well-being when corporations consolidate power through the court system and our elected officials?
  • As a worker, do you feel represented and protected by your HR department? Why or why not? 
  • If you experienced your employer violating your rights or others, are you familiar with what resources are at your disposal and generally how the law works in order to appropriately deal with the situation?


As a consumer, ask questions about worker’s pay and healthcare at the restaurants you frequent to let management know you care. Enough people asked for organics, and alternative milks, which led to change! 

Download the ROC National Diners Guide to find places to dine that support and protect their workers. Encourage your own local restaurants to join the platform. The app is available for iOS and android. 

Support Organizing Efforts.

If you take any of these actions, share that with us - Mention Making Work in the subject line. And brag online about your citizening on social media using #howtocitizen. 

We love feedback from our listeners -

Visit Baratunde's website to sign up for his newsletter to learn about upcoming guests, live tapings, and more. Follow him on Instagram or join his Patreon. You can even text him, like right now at 202-894-8844.

How To Citizen with Baratunde is a production of I iHeart Radio Podcasts. executive produced by Miles Gray, Nick Stumpf, Elizabeth Stewart, and Baratunde Thurston. Produced by Joelle Smith, edited by Justin Smith. Powered by you.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:05):
Welcome to How to Citizen The Bariton Day, a show
where we reimagine the words citizen as a verb, reclaim
it from those who weaponized it, and remind ourselves how
to wield our collective power. This is a new episode.
I'm Bariton Day. Like any healthy democracy, this show is

stronger when you participate, and we have a number of
ways for you to do that. If you're on the
social media, use the hashtag how to Citizen when you
post about the show, and we will lift up as
many as we can. If you want to be more direct,
you could always reach out to us via comments at
how to citizen dot com. We still check email around here,

and if you're doing the actions that we ask you
too at the individual show, let us know what you did.
Send an email to action at how to citizen dot com.
I am loving seeing your reflections the organizations you're starting.
It's really great. Let's keep it up and speaking to
keep it things up. We would be remiss if we

didn't ask you to rate and review the show wherever
you're listening to it. I suggest five stars, but that's
up to you. Citizen. A quick word on how we
make this show. We do most of them live in
zoom with a visible cameras on chat room, fired up audience,
which could include you. You have a chance to ask

our guest questions and literally help make the show. You
can sign up for these invites by going to how
to citizen dot com and joining my email list. And yes,
I love the live audience experience. But you're special because
you're right here, So don't worry. I'm gonna be back
check in with you, certainly at the end of the show,

where I give you particular ways that you can citizen.
Now a we to pass the mic to myself as
I set up this episode. We are gathered here today
to talk about work and the people who do it

in our society. For the past several decades, we've seen
a consolidation of power in our country and in our economy.
Productivity has gone up by seventent but wages have remained
stagnant for the last forty years. In the midst of
a pandemic, we are even more exposed to who has
power in the economy. And while we talk in abstract

terms about labor and capital, underneath of all that is people,
and as we know from this show, we are all
about that people power. One of the things we learned
from Eric lew in episode two is that when we
have power, we tend to consolidated. More power begets more power.
It compounds like interest, and we've seen that happen so

much with our economy and who has the power to
flex within it. But we also learned something else from
that seminal episode on power with Eric, that it's infinite
that we can generate it by shifting our attention, our focus,
our labors in the direction of distributing power more to
the people. There is a new labor movement afoot in

this country, and while we are drowning in the stories
of things that aren't working, there are people working to
make work itself work for so many of us. And
we are honored to have two of those individuals here
representing themselves and their organizations in building a new type
of movement for and with workers. Michelle Miller is the

co founder and co executive director of coworker dot org,
ap peer based platform that deploys digital tools and data
and strategies to help people improve their work lives. This
organization describes itself as a laboratory for workers to experiment
with power building strategies and win meaningful changes in the

twenty one century economy. Before co founding coworker dot Org,
Michelle spent a decade at the Service Employees International Union,
where she used creative media and the arts to advance
union campaigns. We are joined by Saru Jayaraman, the director
of the Social Movement Center at the University of California, Berkeley,

and because one job is not enough for this hard worker,
the president of One Fair Wage, which is fighting to
end sub minimum wages for tipped and other low wage
workers and ensure that everybody who works in America receives
at least a full fair minimum wage from their employer.
Prior to One Fair Wage, Saro co founded Restaurant Opportunities

Centers United to improve wages and working conditions for the
nation's restaurant workforce. Both Michelle and Saru have been at
this for a long time. In some cases they have
degrees in it. They teach it, they've studied it, and
they've practiced it. And they share something else in common.
They both have a White House connect I'm speaking, of course.
At the previous White House, Michelle co moderated a panel

with then President Obama on worker Voice, Saru was recognized
by that same White House as a champion of change back.
So I want to start with a quote actually from
the home page of coworker dot org, which says the following,
at co worker, we believe people should have agency and

power in their work lives. Most of us will spend
a third of our adult lives at work, more time
than we spend with our families, in school or participating
in our community civic life. Yet many of us are
silenced and unseen at our jobs. We deserve to have
a voice in shaping our working conditions and the ways
in which work happens. We are powerful, and together we

can transform our jobs and workplaces. Amazing sentiments, very well
stated and well said, and it sets the stage for
why we're here. Even though it's from Coworker det work,
that represents a lot of the work you've both have
been doing across your whole careers. You're both on the
front lines of new ways of looking at work, and

I want to understand from you how, even if the
types of workers your organizations focus on are different, some
of the tactics and struggles you're seeing may actually be
the same. Can you tell me about who you're supporting
with your work and what that looks like. Michelle, I'll
start with you. Sure, thank you so much. I'm very

happy to be here with all of you. Um SO
co worker is UM. We sometimes describe ourselves as the
welcome that to the labor movement on the Internet. We're
an open platform for anybody to start a workplace campaign
around something they care about that they want to change,
and we help the muse internet tools to build up
a committee of their fellow co workers, no matter where

those co workers are in the country. And so most
of the people that we support are people in service sector,
low wage jobs, people in the gig economy. We've worked
closely with the organizations that RU founded rock UM in
restaurant work, retail and gig and and many other parts
of the economy where people are sort of doing that

frontline work, frontline service work. The people that we interact
with every day UM as we are going about our
business so just quickly during COVID nineteen, one example is
we supported campaigns by grocery store workers at almost every
national and regional chain, and they were the people who
were able to recognize very quickly the potential health impacts

of having to work during the pandemic and the necessity
of having grocery store employees on the front lines. And
so they one hazard pay and made hazard pay like
just an understood demand that they were able to win
at the company level and then sort of in the
media level, where when people were talking about what workers
deserve in this moment, they were always including this idea

of hawzard pay, and that has been for those workers.
Just the act of coming together and winning hazard pay
at places like Trader Joe's and and Whole Foods and
other places engage them in an experience of their own
collective power that has kept them together over time to
ensure that those companies hang on to the protections that
they want. So that's a little bit about who we're

working with and how we're working on these campaigns. I
love the way you put that engage them in the
experience of their own collective power. You landed at the
right podcast right now, Michelle um Saru. I have a
similar question to you. You know, who is one fair
wage supporting with its work? What does that work look like?

Right after September eleven, two thousand one, I co founded
the Restaurant Opportunity Center together with workers, restaurant workers with
lost their jobs and their co workers lives at Windows
on the World, which was the restaurant at the top
of the World Trade Center Town one, and since that
time nineteen years ago, been fighting to raise wages and
working conditions in the restaurant industry and now more broadly

in the service sector, all tipped workers. Um So, they're
about thirteen points six million restaurant workers in America, or
there were right before the pandemic. Another couple million other
tipped workers now salon, car wash, wheelchair attendants, hair salon workers.
These are all tipped workers. And then gig workers who
received tips are also under our umbrella. And what we've

been collectively fighting for is, you know, at this point,
we're close to fifteen or sixteen million workers in America
collectively fighting to end the sub minimum wage for tipped workers,
which is still two dollars and thirteen cents an hour
in the United States of America. And I'll tell you
more about the history of why it's two dollars and
thirteen cents an hour. It's a literal legacy of slavery

and a little bit but just to say who these
workers are. They are women, they're just proportionally women of color.
They are adults, they're not teenagers, um the media ages
thirty five. And they are literally the lowest paid workers
in America. Every year the U. S. Department of Labor
has put out a list of the ten lowest paying jobs,

and every year, seven of the ten lowest paying jobs
in America are all in one sector, the restaurant and
service sector. So you know, it's the people who put
food on our tables, who, frankly, even before the pandemic,
couldn't put food on their own families tables. With the pandemic,
it became an issue of life and death because sixty

of these workers couldn't get unemployment insurance. About ten million
of these fifteen million workers lost their jobs, and sixty
of them couldn't get unemployment insurance, not because they weren't documented.
There was a whole other issue for immigrants, but for
documented workers, they couldn't get unemployment insurance because they were
living off tips and their states told them you earned

too little, it does look like you earned anything, or
you earned too little for us to award you benefits.
And so these workers were gaslight. They were told, because
we pay you too little, you're not going to get
benefits that, by the way, you pay taxes to get.
And now these same workers are being asked to go
back to work and enforce social distancing and mask rules

with the very same customers from whom they're supposed to
get tips to make up that two dollar wage and
bring it to the full minimum wage. So you know
who are these workers. They're the workers that frankly, are
going to either stop or perpetuate a super spreader event
this fall when indoor dining really becomes a thing in

a lot of the East Coast, and the CDC has
reported eating at a restaurant makes you twice as likely
to get the virus, which means both the workers and
everybody you know who eats in these restaurants is going
to be at incredible risks. So we're relying on these
workers who are protecting us, and we're paying them two
dollars at the same time. That's who these workers are.

Thank you for that overview, And I think bringing it
to the tension, the sort of contradictory, the paradoxical demands
that we've put on a certain set of workers to
ingratiate themselves to customers, will also disciplining them and becoming
some sort of rule enforcer and a and a public
health official. That doesn't quite add up. It just sounds unreasonable.

There is a word that we are getting more familiar
with in this show and encouraging people to embrace as well,
and that is power. And you know where does it
reside and who has it? And in the age old
question of employers and employees, there is a power dynamic
and we've seen some shifts in that, certainly at the
highest levels in the US over the past several decades,

a declining union membership as one example, or the distribution
of wages and earnings as another. But I'm curious what
are you both seeing and what's different now than it
was for fifty years ago. I can start, if you
don't mind. This is where I'd love to bring in
the history because why are we so focused on the
fact that six or seven million people earn a two

dollar wage. We're focused on it because it's the greatest
power that the industry has over its workers, which is
the power not to pay them at all and have
customers essentially pay them for them. It's the power to
say I will benefit from the value of your labor
without actually paying for it. It's the power to basically

have one group of working people, which is customers, pay
for another group of working people's wages. And what's amazing
in this moment is that literally thousands of workers are
now rising up and saying I've had enough of this,
and it's a hundred and fifty years overdue. Because tipping
originated in feudal Europe, it was something that aristocrats and

nobles gave to serve some vassals, but always on top
of a wage. When it came to the United States,
it was actually right around the time of emancipation eighteen
fifties eighteen sixties, and the restaurant lobby demanded the right
to hire newly freed slaves, mostly black women at the time,
and not pay them anything and have them live entirely
on tips. They wanted the ability to basically continue slavery

um to have black workers that they didn't have to
pay because they didn't value their labor much less so
because they were black women, and so that idea that
a black woman could be paid zero dollars an hour. Frankly,
a black person could be paid zero dollars an hour
and have to live off of tips. Became law in
ninety eight, is part of the New Deal when everybody
got the right to the minimum wage for the first

time in the United States, except for three groups of
black workers, farm workers, domestic workers, and tipped restaurant workers
who were told, you get a zero dollar wage as
long as tips bring you to the full minimum wage.
We went from zero in eight to two dollars and
thirteen cents an hour, a two dollar increase over one
hundred and fifty years. And I think, I mean, we

all know it wouldn't be two dollars if it were men,
or if it were white men. But it's women, and
it's women of color, and they largely work at eye
hoops and Denny's and Red Lobsters, and they're struggling to
make ends meet because for a hundred fifty years, because
of the incredible power of a trade lobby called the
National Restaurant Association. We call it the other n r A.

It represents the chains, the eye hoops, the apple these
the olive garden. And here's the thing, like, you know,
maybe this absurd legacy of slavery would have gone away
if it hadn't been for exactly what you said, the
concentration of power among these chains who formed this formidable
trade lobby and have been named the tenth most powerful

lobbying group in Congress and in every state, the State
Restaurant Association is the number one voice on the minimum wage,
on paid sick leave, on paid family leave, on any
worker issue. At the federal level, the n r A,
the other n r A as we call it, is
the number one voice on employment issues in Congress. And
so until now it's been what we call Da Vita

versus Goliath. It's not David versus Golliath, it's the Vita
or Daniela versus Goliath, because these are women and women
of color up against the most powerful trade lobby in
the United States. And it's been a really, really tough fight.
We've actually won a full minimum wage with tips on
top three times in Michigan, Maine, and d c. And
in every instance, this incredibly powerful trade lobby lobbied and

bribed democrats, let's be real, to overturn the will of
the people in each of those places. And so it's
been a tough fight. You know, five steps forward two
steps back because we're up against this huge lobby and
finally we've reached this pandemic moment where we have literally
thousands of workers who are saying that's it. I'm done.
Enough is enough, because you know, you're asking me to

go back to work for two and three dollars, put
my life at risk and my mom they's life at
risk for two or three dollars when tips are down.
You're asking me to enforce these rules with these crazy
customers who I don't know if you'll have seen the
news clips, but they're assaulting servers right now. They are
assaulting servers for trying to enforce these rules, and so

workers have been going on strike. We organized the first
strike August thirty one. I don't know if it's possible
by tunity for me to share an image. I'd love
to share an image from the strengths. Is that possible? So, yeah,
this is a podcast, and you cannot see what's Aru
put up on her screen, So let me try to
paint the picture with words. She shared a photograph. The

setting is Time Square. There's a large crowd gathered to protest.
They're all wearing face masks, their photographs, their signs that
say things like paid sick days. Dominating the photo is
a towering twenty four ft cutout of a black woman
with long braids and a face mask that says fight,

don't stop are She's wearing an apron and looking directly
at the camera lens as she makes a fist with
her right hand and a gesture very reminiscent of Rosie Deriveter.
This isn't Rosie, though. This is Elena the Essential Worker.
We erected her in Times Square and also in Sokolow

Square in Chicago. There are five of hers. She'll be
appearing also in Philly and d C in Boston. UM
workers are going on strike all over the country to
say enough is enough. We will not go back to
work without a full fair minimum wage with tips on
top and talking about power. What I think is one

of the most extraordinary things about this moment is that
I've seen hundreds of restaurant owners who actually opposed us
on this issue, fought us on this issue, who suddenly
come to us and said, enough is enough. We think
you're right. The time has come to get rid of
this legacy of slavery and to move on. And so
workers are thrise s up and employers are responding, Michelle,

I'd love you too talk about power dynamics in the industry.
And I know you work in so many but one
of the ones that feel so different to me from
the world of tipped workers or grocery workers that we've
heard about so far is the world of tech workers.
And if I could kind of suggest getting your analysis
on what the workplace power dynamics look like, they're because

so many of us on the outside say these workers
are highly compensated, they get everything they want, they have
foodsball or what have you. What does that dynamic really
look like, and what may some of us not understand
about power in the tech workplace? So power really is
central to this question. I think tech provides a really
good illustration of how money doesn't always even equal power.

So shortly after the election, there were many tech workers
who started getting together and and you know, deciding that
they were not going to participate in creating lists for deportation,
that they were going to choose not to build surveillance software,
that they were going to not participate in the further

incursion of human rights via technology. And as they were
having these conversations, one of the things they really realized
was like, Oh, we've already kind of built all of this,
like we've been doing this for many years. And these
very well compensated workers, who in many of their companies
had various forums where they could speak up and talk

about things that were bothering them, had a sense that
when they started talking about the sort of fundamental money
makers inside of these companies, inside of places like Google,
which is like the collection of data on every single
user that touches even comes near a Google product, or
at Facebook, the enabling of disinformation campaigns and and advise

and and Twitter just being Twitter, that it was going
to take something more than speaking up once or twice
at a meeting. And so they came to us and
they asked us. Their first question was is it legal
and okay for us to use labor organizing around our
ethics questions with our companies um? Which was such an

interesting um way to approach this because for most low
wage workers, like the rules in the law have literally
never worked in their favor, and so there isn't that
that question doesn't come up as much as for tech workers,
even for folks who maybe came from more marginalized communities,
like the rules have generally worked out, and so the

first thing they had to do was really think about,
like interrogate the idea that labor law and labor organizing
is not necessarily governed by a set of fair rules
at the outset, and you might just have to take
a risk anyway to build the power that you need
in order to debate changes. And so we started working

specifically with a group of employees at Google who were
concerned about a series of issues inside the company, both
around internal harassment campaigns directed at people of color and
queer people and trans people who worked at the company.
That essentially what would happen would be that they would
raise issues around their ethics, concerns about products that the

company was building on internal message boards, and then more
like conservative or racist people inside the company would go
after them and attack them, and they couldn't get the
company to take their complaints about what was happening seriously
to kept asking someone to discipline the people who were
going after them, and they couldn't get the company to respond.

And so what they started having to do with something
that they had never done before, which is organized themselves
into a collective you know, we talked to them a
lot about how like, if you are all individually fighting this,
you are never actually going to make the progress that
you need. You have to do it all together and
then telling the story of what was happening to them publicly.
And so you know, for these employees, the fights that

they were having with these companies were not fights about
whether or not they were getting enough pay or whether
or not they were getting decent benefits, but really like
what does our labor produce and what is the environment
in which we are actually producing those things? So do
I want to use my labor which I bring into
this company to produce surveillance drones that are flying over

the Middle East and able to identify people based on
one pixel of information, which is what the project may
have ben campaign at Google was run by Googlers, and
and many of the Googlers who were involved in um
demanding that Google stop a partnership with the Department of
Defense to build those surveillance drones were themselves from Muslim
families who knew that the people in their own families

would be targeted in their own countries by these surveillance drones.
And you know at Facebook there were questions about, like
are we going to continue to turn a blind eye
to the ways in which our platform is enabling genocide
and Myanmar or um election funagling in Brazil. But again

like this question of like what does my labor do
and what is the result of what it performs, and
what is my relationship to that? And can I organize
around those things? And can I tell a company as
a collective body that you are not going to use
our labor, You're not going to use our engineering skills
to do harm to people that we share the world

with or that we share the country with. Another great
example of that was when the information about detention centers
being run by ICE was made public in in the
summer of how many tech workers quickly recognized that Salesforce
was providing software, that Wayfare was providing beds, that all
of these companies were deeply embedded in these practices and

actually enabling those practices to take place, And again people
collectively coming together and saying like, you don't get to
use my labor for this. And so what we've seen
is this sort of ongoing interrogation of the ways in
which the companies that people have been working for for
many years who previously had promised them that the work

they were doing was all about the betterment of the world.
That like technology, remember like that, like technology was going
to connect us all and make everything easier and better. Um,
and that the root of the lie and that promise
when you are built into the United States of America's
imperial goals and further incursion on human rights, Like how
do you contest with the fact that you are involved

in that project and how do you use your labor
to stop those things? When I'm hearing from both of
you in different ways, is an attempt to rebalance power,
whether that power has been used to take advantage of
someone in a literal financial and physical sense or in
a more moral and ethical sense, that we need to

shift that balance of power between workers. And certainly they're
very large employers who are consolidated and have some outsize
amount of power and making the rules. What do you
all think happens outside of the workplace. It feels like
it's bigger than just the workplace. Are there ripple effects?
Are their consequences for the larger society in not doing

that and not rebalancing that power and that sort of
taking on and giving workers more of a voice to
use some of your language. Listen, the pandemic revealed so
much that was so wrong for so long, you know,
the dysfunction of the system, not just for workers, but
for employers and consumers and frankly for our democracy. So

I'm going to go in that order. The dysfunction didn't
work for employers. You know, our industry has the highest
rates of turnover of any industry United States. It's that's
three turns in one position in one year. We actually
calculated the cost and it's in the millions for any
of these chains. They spend millions of dollars each year

on rehiring and retraining and employee morale being low because
they pay so little, so that it hurts employers themselves,
even it hurts shareholders. It hurts people in these companies
who are not actually achieving their best potential as companies
because they're not paid. It hurts consumers because we end

up bearing the brunt of the public health disaster that
occurs when tipped workers cannot enforce these rules because they
have to rely on tips. But it also hurts consumers
because consumers are footing the bill for multibillion dollar corporations
by paying their workers wages in tips. You know, we

as consumers and taxpayers, we subsidize multibillion dollar corporations like
Darden which is all of Gardens parent company, and I
Hop and Denny's. We subsidize them through our tips, paying
their workers wages to their tips. But we also subsidize
them to the tune of sixteen point five billion with
a B dollars annually in taxpayer funded public assistance. This is,

you know, workers having to use Medicare or Medicaid, workers
you know, using various forms of emergency room care. I mean,
just all kinds of public assistance. But I think the
biggest thing to think about when workers don't have power
and they end up with a two dollar wage, which is,
to me, the epitome of not having power. The biggest

challenge is to our economy and our democracy, because what
happens when the largest and fastest growing industry in America
is the absolute lowest pain. It means that we're going
from a country of one in three working Americans working
and living in poverty to a country of one and
two Americans. Half of all working Americans working full time

and living in poverty. It means that our consumption power
as a country is non existent. I think we're feeling
that right now. When millions of people are out of work,
unable to cover meals for their children, or or utilities
or pay the rent, what happens to our ability to
consume as a country. And then, worst of all, for

those of you that have ever scratched your heads about
why we don't vote as a country, why is it
that Americans have such a low voter turnout rate? I
will tell you why. It's because the largest and fastest
growing industries in America are people who work two in
three jobs and largely cannot, you know, afford to think

or let alone engage in political activity, and frankly also
feel disillusion and disengage because they're earning two dollars an
hour and they've seen both Democrats and Republicans sell them
down the river for the National Restaurant Association and leave
them at two dollars an hour, even as other workers
go up to fifteen. They've been left behind at two

and three and five. I know if it were me,
I wouldn't vote because I would say it's the point
both parties have left me at two and three dollars.
That's the result of a lack of power among low
wage workers, a lack of voice, a lack of ability
to change their circumstances. Those are the moments in which
fascist rise. When workers don't have voice or power. They

feel helpless, they feel hopeless, they feel disengaged. And what
I'm trying to say is that definitely is changing. There
is hope on the horizon. We've seen work these same
workers now rising up and saying enough is enough, not
just with regard to their wages, but also with regard
to voting. They're feeling some hope with regard to voting.
But the real consequence of us having allowed these workers

for so long to not have power and to not
get paid, and to not feel their voice or their power,
or even their humanity at two dollars an hour is
the loss of our democracy. Michelle, do you have anything
you want to add to this idea of the effects
on the workplace. I mean, as sorry was talking, I

was really thinking a lot about the deeper layers of
the loss of being able to vote and the fact
that someone is working two to three jobs and probably
taking care of someone in their family that doesn't have
adequate access to medical care, and probably is also responsible
for children and their family who don't have access to

decent child care and is are really bearing the brunt
of a number of structural and institutional failures in this country.
Also then do not have the time or the mental
space to contribute to the policies that will change those
things and to actually be active members of our communities,

and the ways in which that tears at community like
that means that the commons only gets to be populated
by people who have enough money in time to show
up in the commons because everybody else at work. And
when you can't show up, the things that you know
about the ways in which the economy does function could function,

the ways in which we can care for each other,
the ways in which we distribute food and goods and
logistics are all lost. It is like an aggregate loss
to us in terms of actually being able to adequately
govern our society and make good decisions about the ways
in which we want to allocate resources to run a
good economy. It is not just a matter of the

fact that it's not fair and not right that folks
are working all the time and forced to event poverty
and suffering, although of course those things are true, but
there is a deeper loss around the contributions that people
can actually make to our culture and our society and
the ideas that drive our government. When you think about
the fact that most of the policy that has developed,

most of the stories that are told about our economy
are told by people who mostly operate and very similar
circumstances to one another economically, and came from the same
schools and live in the same places, you really can
start to grock like why we have not been able
to meet people and why people feel like there's nothing

worth voting for because the institutions don't even know how
to talk to and engage the people because they haven't
included them in their governance. We call the show how
to Citizen. We're trying to make it a verb. We're
trying to define together what that means for us as people.
But we also live in a society where corporations are
people like entities, and there's an idea of corporate citizenship

that sometimes means deeper things than other times, but there
is a set of responsibilities and I'm curious what you
all think of the role of a good corporate citizen.
How does a company citizen, Well, what does it mean
for them for the benefit of the society to do
that better. We now have eight hundred and fifty restaurant

companies who have joined forces with us and are coming
with us to governors and and to city councils and
state legislatures and Congress to say, we need livable wages
for workers. We need it to be required across the board.
We need fifteen dollars with tips on top. We need
paid sickly, we need hazard pay. They are saying they

need those things as employers, both because they believe that's
good for workers and because they believe it's actually better
for the bottom line for their business. But I will
tell you that's not the chains. That's mostly not the chains.
These are independent restaurants across the country that, although they
also are struggling to survive, are saying, you know what,

we're struggling to survive, but we know our workers are
struggling ten thousand times more than we are. Where we
may lose our businesses, they'll lose their homes. And so
to me, they are model corporate citizens. They are the
employers who are saying this is not just about me
as the business owner making double triple digit profits. This

is about me as not just a member of my community,
but a provider for my community, an employer in my community. UM,
somebody who not only you know, shut down my business,
but then watched my workers suffer in my community, and
that impacts me. Um. The model corporate citizen is the Frankly,

the Henry Ford of today. I mean, let's be clear,
Henry Ford was a Nazi and a racist. Let's be
clear on who Henry Ford was. But the philosophy that
he espoused that I have to make sure that my
workers on the assembly line make enough to pay for
the cars, frankly, was a selfish philosophy. Was a philosophy

of I want to make sure there are consumers. And
we've gone so far a field from you know, even
Frankly basic economics Like that, to me is just basic economics.
We've gone so far a field to ingreed and avarice
and just extreme profit driven motive that they have cannibalized

their own consumer base. In the restaurant industry, for example,
before the pandemic, we had three segments fine dining, casual
or family style restaurant. Those about eye Hoops and the
Applebees that are full service but casual, and then quick
service anything without a waiter. Well, fast food and fine
dining were exploding because of the hour glass nature of

our economy. The wealthy were eating out and low wage
workers were eating in fast food. But the casual restaurants
of America have stagnated. They've not died, but they've stagnated.
They aren't growing as fast as the other two segments
because the people who used to eat in casual restaurants
were guess who, restaurant workers. That's where restaurant workers would

go hang out after their ships. That's where they take
their families. And at two dollars and thirteen cents an hour,
they cannot afford eat even at the Olive Garden anymore.
They can't afford to eat at Denny's. They can't afford
to take their family out for a family meal at
a family style restaurant. And that is an example of
a corporate cannibal that is destroying their own consumer market.

And so what we need is independent what we call
them high road businesses, businesses that are taking the high
road to profitability, that actually believe in investing in their
workforce and then fighting for policy change alongside their workers.
That's a true corporate citizen. Like a like a high

road corporate citizen giving their workers a day off to
go vote, that's a true corporate citizen. Michelle, what are
your thoughts on what a good corporate citizen is or does.
I want to talk a little bit about the structures
that make it difficult for companies to act like good
corporate citizens, because I think that they do all of

the things that Sorru described, but many companies are owned
by private equity firms hedge funds and have been financialized
to the point that companies themselves are treated as speculative
properties and rent seeking properties. I'm gonna pop in real
quick to help break something down that Michelle just said

when she described companies that have been financialized by hedge
funds and private equity. She's talking about a process known
as financialization. And I could just leave you hang in
and let you look it up yourself, but I believe
in you and I want to help you out, so
let me define this term real quick. Financialization is when

a company shifts away from generating its profits primarily through
selling actual goods and services and starts to rely instead
on financial instruments, debt, interests, capital gains. It's a trend
in the economy overall, as financial services make up an
increasing share of economic activity. Critics will argue that this

is a poor way to generate value. It is short term.
It prioritizes the gains of investors and insiders over workers
and the general public, so it is a less real
version of economic growth or in this case of corporate profits.
I hope that helped back to our conversation. A great

example is we work with Starbucks bustos for many, many years.
We started seeing like as soon as they gave workers
going across the board wage in what we started hearing
from workers was that labor hours were being sneakily cut
at stores all across the country. So like the CEO
couldn't make the decision to give everybody a raise and

just like have that be money that went into the
pockets of workers, That money had to be made up
for by cutting hours that people were able to work
and understaffing stores because they're actually beholden to a bunch
of shareholders. And when the pandemic hit, we had baristas
who were asking at Starbucks clothes all of their cafes
because they're they we're not providing an essential service, and

that they wanted to be paid, and Starbucks was saying
that they didn't have the money, and we discovered that
at the same time, there were forty million dollars in
stock buy backs that were taking place. Stock buy backs
is when people in the company buy back the stock
to raise the share price to make it more valuable
so that they can it's Shenanigan's And so when that
became public information, it allowed for there to be open

questions about why Starbucks wasn't meeting the needs of their employees,
and they actually ended up winning a Starbucks Bresta have
had four to six weeks where they didn't have to
go to work in the cafes and they were able
to be paid. I just think it's really important when
we're thinking about the policies that we want to implement
in order to actually enable companies to be good corporate citizens,
really thinking about the way that this financialized model makes

it more desirable for people to use companies as speculative
properties and making better and treating the entire economy like
a casino than actually providing for goods and services that
we need in our economy. Shenanigans is just a great
definition of stock by backs. You like to start getting
to the technical and like Shenanigans and we all kind

of we all kind of feel you, We all kind
of feel you on that is this our destiny to
have this epic battle of labor versus capital. Could we
live in a world where companies fight with their workers
and not just against them and vice versa, where we
align the incentives in the right way to move everybody forward.

What would that world look like? How would we create
that economic model. I'm gonna speak just very practically about
what we can do right now to push for that world,
because we cannot go back to the way things were.
The way things were did not work for the majority
of people in the world, not just in America. And
if we learned anything from the pandemic, it's that we're interdependent.

What happens to a waitress, you know, in a restaurant,
affects you and me. Because last week, the CDC reported
that you're twice as likely to get the pandemic if
you eat in a restaurant. That restaurants are one of
the top super spreader events in the United States. So
what happens to her affects people in that restaurant, then

it's gonna affect everybody you interact with. We are inter dependent.
So if we're interdependent, let's reimagine our world and put
a stake in the ground to fight for that reimagined world.
But and in interdependent world, with the pandemic, we created
an emergency fund for workers and a relief program for employers.
We raised like twenty million dollars and two thousand workers

applied for relief, and rather than just handing out five
hundred dollar in cash payments, we actually have engaged two
d two workers in fighting for one fair wage, in striking,
and in voting and getting everybody else they know to vote.
We started a voter program out of that relief fund.
This is a population of people two or twenty workers.

We check their voter record. They have a less than
twenty less than twenty of them ever voted in their lives,
and the vast majority are citizens that can vote on
the employer's side. We worked with Governor Newsoman California, and
then Marida Blasio in New York and now Mayor Douggan
in Detroit to create a program called Highroad Kitchens that's
providing relief cash grants to restaurants that commit to transitioning

to a full livable wage with tips on top. And
it's very different. Lots of cities are now and the
government is looking at just blanket relief for restaurants and
blanket relief for different sectors with no conditions and no
requirements for change. And what we're doing is the opposite,
which is saying, we've got to save independent restaurants, but
we've got to only save independent restaurants if they're committed

to change. Thank you, Michelle, saying to you, what does
the world look like or how do we get to it?
That aligns these incentives of what feels like an epic,
everlasting pitch battle so that workers and companies they work
within for are working together more. So I'm gonna start
with one thing we can do and then how that

enables a really radically different vision. About a quarter of
the country is experiencing unemployment right now. We have rates
of unemployment that we haven't seen since the Great Depression.
And what people are experiencing in that is the absolute
structural failure of our unemployment system as it is currently designed,
the fact that the system is designed not to be navigable.

It's designed to push you into employment based on this
presumption that you always have to be working, and if
you're not working, there's something wrong with you, that you're
you're taking from our society, and that because the duty
to care has been essentially abandoned in the public sector
and has been kind of left to corporations. If you
don't have a job, like there's no way for you

to access the things that you need, And that the
unemployment crisis is lining up with the eviction crisis, like
the eviction crisis is actually an unemployment crisis, and vice versa,
and also lining up with the debt crisis. That we
have people that are in many ways experiencing all three
of these structural failures all at once. But the opportunity

that lies in that is that we can look at
all of these systems and really start to talk about
how they don't function to make people's lives actually better
and more livable, and start interrogating questions about like why
do we expect people to have to be working all
of the time, Why is it not reasonable to expect
that after you lose a job, you might take a

few months to like recover and think about what you'd
like to do next. Why is there an entire class
of people in this country that we think shouldn't even
have agency about what job they choose next, Because often,
and specifically people in low income jobs, and mostly people
of color who are working in service sector jobs are
basically treated like they should just take whatever the next

job that comes along to them is, regardless of their
own agency and choice about what they like to be doing. So,
what if we thought about our experience of work and
not working as like equal parts of the ways in
which we're engaged in the economy and ways of identifying
what we would like to contribute ourselves. And and that

actually is enabled by like, initially in a very practical way,
radically reimagining how the unemployment system works. Like there was
a time when you paid into the system, you got
ten months of unemployment, you weren't shoved into whatever job
was next, and you were able to actually like make
active decisions about what you want to do with your life.

It was not perfect, but it was better than what
it is now. A lot of what we're doing right
now is working with unemployed workers to have them articulate
the system failures and then the things that they would
like to see be different in the next phase of
understanding unemployment. And the reason that again I think that
is really connected to this question of like where could

we get is that I would like it if the
a that we thought about the economy was something that
we all hold a piece of in our hands, and
we hold that piece as we go to work, or
as we pay our rent, or as we are consumers,
but that we aren't sort of objects of the economy,
where agents of the economy, and that we can make
decisions together at the local level, the municipal level, the

state level, about what do we want the economy to
do right now? Like what is this for? If we
are in a place where, um, a lot of growth
has been tearing apart our parks and trees, and we
know that climate change is coming and we need to
do something about the land, we can make a decision that,
like a growth mindset for the companies around us is
probably not going to be good for our long term survival.

We can make those decisions right now. There's so few
people making those decisions who only have one interest, which
is in growth and inlining their pockets, that that kind
of actual negotiation around what we value is not possible.
So I feel like this moment around confronting unemployment and
eviction and all of these way so much. The economic
setups haven't been working for people for a long time.

There at their peak pressure point, gives us a moment
to say, what do we actually want from what we
get when we go to work, or we look for
housing or we live in our cities and towns. I'm
going to be thinking for a long time about not
being an object of the economy, but an agent of
the economy. That was so well said, and when you
make it plural asians of the economy, it sounds like

a new Marvel superhero series where we're all the superheroes
because we're making active choices about how we want to
contribute and how we want to participate. And it's just
a more empowered way to see ourselves, which is the
point of this practice and this exercise we're doing together.
So thank you for that. It really moved me. We

have a few questions lined up, so let's go to Tom.
You are up. You know, we do have collective power
as consumers, and I'm wondering, as a consumer, how do
we use that power to further this movement? You know,
how do we make sure we're supporting the right kind
of restaurants and companies and how do we know that

it's going to help the situation. Yeah, so we've been
actually thinking and working on that very question for a
really long time because in our industry we observed consumers
very visibly have a real impact on restaurants with regard
to local and organic and sustainable food. I remember twenty

years ago restaurants in New York saying I'll never be
able to afford locally sourced organic food. And then before
the pandemic, restaurants were jumping over each other to say
they provided locally sourced organic food, whether or not they
actually did. And a lot of that came about because
consumers read, you know, Omnivor's Dilemma and Fast Food Nation

and saw movies about the food system, and then went
to restaurants and said is this local, is this organic?
Is this vegetarian? And there's that great Portlandia sketch, which
we always think of as our kind of ideal. I
don't know if everybody's watches Portlandia. But there's that sketch
where the couple goes in and asked the waitress, you know,
is this chicken organic? Did it have friends? What was

its name? Did one chicken put their arm around the
other chicken? Um? Calling the chicken that was it? And
just imagine if consumers did the same thing to ask
the manager is this server paid? Just imagine if the
customer did the same thing to say, how come there
are no people of color in the dining floor. There's

plenty of people in the color in the kitchen. Um.
Just imagine if they said, does everybody here have paid
sickly even hazard pay? The kind of impact that could have.
So we spent a lot of time looking at the sustainable, local,
organic food movement and saying, not only how could we
replicate that consumer activity, but also how could we expand
the definition of sustainable food to include sustainable wages and

working conditions for the people in the food system. And
we created a Diner's Guide, an app that tells you
which restaurants are doing the right thing. Every year, we're
giving out awards to restaurants doing the right thing. We
even created videos to show consumers how to walk into
a restaurant or eat and at the end of the
your meal, go up to your manager and say, I
love the food here, love the service, but I actually

would love to see you get a gold or silver
award in this app. I'd love to see you pay
livable wages. I'd love to see you do X, Y
and Z. We have the app you can see it
on in your app stores called RC National Diners Guide.
But the pandemic happened, and a lot of those restaurants
that have got a words in that app are now,
you know, on the on the brink. The biggest impact

you can have as consumers is to say to your
elected officials, it's outrageous I refuse to continue to subsidize
multimillion dollar corporations by paying their workers wages with my tips.
It's outrageous I refuse to put my own public health
at risk because the state or the city refuses to
require paid sickly or paid family leave or hazard pay

for these workers. So yes, we need you to absolutely
effectuate change as consumers. But us consumers have power not
just to effectuate that change with restaurants or businesses, but
also with the people who represent you and those businesses.
They value employers voices over everybody else, and the way

that changes is by them hearing from consumers and workers
as much as they hear from the Restaurant Association and
big business and even small business. Sorry, I like that
inspired a thought, which is if we form some kind
of national Residents Association maybe the other other nr A

to counter the other nr A lobbying for the people. Michelle,
I want to give you a chance to quickly weigh
in on what consumers and purchasers could do, and I
want to get to at least one more question. We
have someone waiting. Yeah, actually I just plus one everything
sort of said to save time, and also tell you
that there's a platform called spender rise that kind of

mirrors what we do, but they do it on the
consumer side, and where consumers can commit to spend money
based on an employer making changes at the company that
they're targeting. So I would suggest you check that out
and get involved in spend rise. Spend Rise. Yes, all right,
thank you. Next, and I think finally we're going to
go to Sarah. Thank you very much for taking my

question on air. I appreciate it. So in light of
the things we're just talking about, and also the vision
that you have. I'm interested in knowing whether there has
been discussion of organizing a large scale general strike of
as many workers as possible by your organizations or others
that may be aware of UH in response to these

compounded public health crises of systemic poverty, the pandemic itself,
environmental devastation at large, and kind of how we're seeing
the hollowing out of many of the system's folks have
counted on or support when crises hit. If this is
going to continue to happen, which ecologists, economists and others
are saying it likely, is the workers collective power maybe

the only real response. But I'm curious there's been a
lot of discussion of that. Sarah Nelson from the Flight
Attendants Union essentially stop the government shut down by threatening
a strike by airline employees, which sparked this conversation about
general strike. I think that general strike is very challenging
to put a pull off, and what people need is
practice and building the muscles of really creating situations of

collective care in order to be able to sustain the
length of time that is required for a general strike.
And so what I think we see workers doing right
now is act really preparation for being able to engage
in some kind of large scale walk out. I will
also say that today we launched the Coworker Solidarity Fund,
which we're piloting in the tech industry of the tech workers,

where workers are raising funds to support people engaging in
worker actions like walk out, some strikes, and other things,
so that that's sort of crowdfunded within the company. Workers
who make a little bit more money or people from
the general public can contribute to the fund, so that
when workers on other lower ends of the supply chain

decided to take these actions, they're not bearing the financial
burden and brunt of that all by themselves, but that
there's something to supplement that. So I feel like we're
all kind of getting the little pieces in place to
make these kinds of things more possible. I just want
to add that that is why I wanted to show
you that twenty four ft Elena the Essential Workers Statute,
because we're hoping she's the new Rosie the Riveter. We're

working with an essential Worker coalition to get all the
groups to use her and then to come together really
to poton a general strike absolutely, that's absolutely the way
we're thinking. I think that some of the most inspiring
organizing work by independent contractors has been done through like
groups like the Gig Workers Collective and Gig Workers Rising,

these uber and lift drivers and people who work for
instat Card and Postmates and all of these app based
delivery models where the technology makes it really possible to
enact incredible amounts of control over all of the actions
that the worker takes. But then they sort of have
this plausible deniability being like, well, it's flexible, so you're

not really unemployee, and they've they've been able to really
get away with not providing people with their basic rights.
I would just add that there's a super exciting thing
happening in California. We had about thirty five thousand workers
apply to our relief fund, both gig workers, independent contractors,
and restaurant workers, and they are coming together now to

form a worker own kind of entity that we hope
would be a compare editor in this space to the
uber eats and the door dashes and the lifts um. So,
I think you're right. I think there is an opportunity
that sometimes the right goes too far and they end
up creating opportunities for us UM and by basically disavowing

these workers as their own employees, these workers are therefore
free to put their skills together and maybe create a
high road alternative to the uber eats and the door
dashes through worker ownership. That could be a model, You're
right to other sectors of more traditional employees. So we
haven't talked about worker ownership at all today, but there
is this huge moment of opportunity with the quarter of

the country that's unemployed. As Michelle said, to think about
people actually creating their own worker owned spaces at scale.
And I'll just tell you one last thing. There are
two worker own restaurant and catering companies in the world
that exceed a hundred thousand workers. One is in Italy
and one is in India. The one in Italy started
in a severe economic depression in northern Italy and has

become the third largest catering company in all of Europe.
And so it is totally possible for workers to band
together in moments like this of severe economic depression and
create something entirely new that could revolutionize the way we
think about work. Michelle Sarru, thank you so much for

helping us reimagine workers and power and the balance thereof
in our economy, and helping us see ourselves as not
objects but agents of the economy. That's the thing that's
gonna stick with me. I'm going to sleep on a
lot of this, but you provided some solid examples. You
diagnose the problem, and you pointed a really nice way out,
many ways out in fact. So we appreciate your generosity

and thanks for interacting with us showing us how to citizens.
Thank you so much. It's great to be with all
of you. Hey you, it's just us again in our
private Baritune day listener moment. I want to turn it
over to you. Now it's your turn to citizen. We've
gotten fired up, we're ready to go. Michelle and Saru

dropped a lot of knowledge on us, and now it's
time to practice citizen ng and put it to work ourselves.
You can find all of these actions at how to
citizen dot com in much more detail than I'm going
to lay out right now. As always, there are two
categories of things you can do, the internal work and

the external work. Internally, here's a set of questions I
want you to ask yourself thinking of yourself as a worker. First,
there is the value I create for people in my community, society,
or environment accurately reflected in how I'm compensated as a
work or do I feel represented and protected by my

HR department? If I experience my employer violating my rights
or someone else's, Do I know the rules the process
where the law stands on that? And a bit more
arter sense, how does the consolidation of power in the
hands of a fewer number of corporations? How does that
affect me? Can I think of any ways that that

shows up in my life? Externally? Here are three things
you can actually do when you frequent local restaurant or business.
I want you to ask management about how they're treating
their workers. Asked, are they on a minimum wage and
what is that? Ask if they get paid sick leave?

Ask if this business promotes people from within? Are the
opportunities for advancement Internally? There's an app I want you
to put on your phone. It's called Rock National Diners
Guide r o C. It's available for iOS and androids,
so we've got pretty much everybody covered, and you can
think of it like a YELP for local restaurants with

a focus on labor rights. Check out that app. Find
restaurants with the good ratings in your area, support them.
If a restaurant you love isn't there, add them to
the platform, get them registered in this database and ask
them about their practices. Again, they'll see your demand and
they'll adjust how they serve you and how they treat

their workers in response. Finally, there's always efforts under way
that you can join and support, and I want to
hit you with a couple. There's a fund that's run
by one Fair Wage SUS group. It's the one Fair
Wage COVID Relief Fund. Find and support that. Coworker dot
org also has a solidarity fund that we encourage you

to contribute to and share. Finally, we are big in
this show in thinking of ourselves not just as individuals,
but as more empowered when we think as a collective,
and that's really powerful in our role as consumers. So
check out spend rise dot com and support an existing

consumer campaign aim or start one based on the principles
you've heard about in this episode. Again, those links are
available at how to citizen dot com with a lot
more detail around these actions and if you take any
one of them, we want to hear about it, so
send an email to action at how to citizen dot com.

Help us out by putting the word work in the
subject line. And if you want to tell the world too,
we encourage that as well, so just use the hashtag
how to citizen. That will help us find it and
lift up your efforts in the process. You can follow
Saru jayar Rolan on Twitter at s A R you
j A y A R A M A M and

Michelle I. Miller on Twitter as well. That's Michelle M
I c h E L L E the letter I
and then Miller M I double L E R one,
fair wage dot com and co worker dot org. As always,
if you are digging this show, let the platforms know

with a positive rating and a review. And if you
want to stay in touch and get updates directly from me,
I've got something special for you. Text me two oh
to eight nine four eight eight four or four, put
the words citizen in the text, and you'll get alerted
to future tapings. You'll get to chat back and forth
with me, and you have a chance to find out

more about the how to Citizen universe and about my
own world. How to Citizen with Barrettuon Day is a
production of I Heart Radio Podcasts. Executive produced by Miles Gray,
Nick Stump, Elizabeth Stewart, and barretton Day Thursty, Produced by
Joe L. Smith, Edited by Justin Smith. Powered by You
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