A Picket Line With History

Harsh Conditions for Food Servers Only Worsened After 9-11

"I was just thinking over and over, 'I'm innocent, I did nothing wrong.' " says Ou. "The lawyer said the only thing to do now was to appeal it, but I was upset because I didn't want to appeal something I didn't even do."

The government's failure to enforce the court rulings has created the New Silver Palace picket line. In 1980 Silver Palace restaurant workers created the 318 union—so called to commemorate March 18 as the date they say a new labor movement was born, not only in Chinatown, but across the city, according to union adviser Wing Lam. In this city where most union workers are organized from the top down, 318 is organized from the bottom up, led by and consisting of the workers themselves.

Koo compares the restaurant industry in the city with the garment industry, in which approximately 90 percent of the shops are unionized by UNITE. Whereas base wages have decreased to even below minimum wage for garment workers in the past 20 years, the New Silver Palace campaign has fought to raise base wages for restaurant servers. In 1997 New Silver Palace workers and supporters went to Albany to force Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to raise base wages for servers from $2.90 to $3.30.

Lam declares that New Silver Palace picketers are turning the system around. "New Silver Palace is setting a precedent for workers and leading Chinatown to fight in a greater labor struggle."

Despite the uphill battle workers must face in this city, which has put its labor struggle on the back burner for the war against terrorism, the 318 union and its supporters continue to escalate their fight and see to it that this city tackles these issues.

Koo says, "Silver Palace in this community represents the fighting spirit. When people first got fired, they were like, 'Look, this is what happens to you [when you picket].' But then they got their court injunction, and people went back to work. A lot of people in this community, when they see New Silver Palace, they see a fighting chance." By the picket line outside the restaurant, workers light incense near a cardboard coffin that reads, "Bury Slave Labor."

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