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Restaurant union serving up protests for higher wages

By   /   December 3, 2013  /   No Comments

HEATING UP: Christina Condori joined a protest outside a McDonalds restaurant in Memphis, Tenn., in August.

HEATING UP: Christina Condori joined a protest outside a McDonalds restaurant in Memphis, Tenn., in August.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Restaurant Opportunities Center, a union front and ACORN knockoff, is extending its reach by working with other groups to stage protests in 100 cities Thursday.

In a push for a higher minimum wage and more union members, ROC is also hiring a national campaign director to shepherd the center’s multimillion-dollar budget, partially plumped by taxpayer dollars.

Though registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a nonpartisan nonprofit, ROC is closely aligned with the Democratic Party and Big Labor, notably the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO, said Mike Paranzino, spokesman for the group ROC Exposed.

WHITE HOUSE PASS: Saru Jayaraman is co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center.

WHITE HOUSE PASS: Saru Jayaraman is co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center.

With her insider credentials, ROC co-director Saru Jayaraman was at the White House in May to participate in an unannounced strategy session on raising the minimum wage.

Watchdog.org reported in August that ROC had a presence in a dozen cities. According to the center’s job posting, its new campaign director will supervise “22-23 local organizations around the country.”

Building on earlier protests at fast-food restaurants, ROC and its fellow travelers vow to mount demonstrations in 100 cities Thursday. Among the targets: Washington, D.C. and Boston, whose city councils are considering minimum wage hikes.

Seattle also figures to be a key battleground, as suburban voters narrowly approved a $15-an-hour “living” wage.

ROC officials didn’t respond to Watchdog’s questions, but Paranzino said, “Clearly, they’re gearing up in an aggressive way” ahead of the 2014 elections.

Yet Paranzino suggested ROC’s actions are little more than “manufactured media events” designed to “soften up” politicians.

“There a rent-a-mob feel to these demonstrations, a sort of top-down astroturfing designed to make the protests look organic. It will be interesting to see if they really get 100 (cities). We think it will be more like 50,” he told Watchdog.

Meantime, Paranzino’s group has questioned the IRS about ROC’s contention that it is not lobbying — an act that could violate ROC’s tax-exempt status.

One thing not in doubt is the money ROC pulls in from liberal foundations and the federal government.

Like the scandal-plagued activist group ACORN, ROC uses modest government grants to leverage millions more from private donors, ranging from the Ben and Jerry’s and Kellogg’s foundations to the Left Tilt Fund and the Tides Foundation.

The U.S. Department of Labor, which designates ROC as a “partner,” has routed nearly $1 million to the center, ostensibly to promote workplace safety.

“Some of the training materials the center produced with this public grant read more like a union-recruiting tool brochure,” Paranzino said.

The Centers for Disease Control awarded ROC $200,000 to help “improve the health of the nation’s Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations.” ROC took that money to New Orleans restaurants and urged them to join its D.C.-based lobbying arm.

ROC also received $500,000 in public funding through federal stimulus programs in New York City.

“Taxpayers are effectively being forced to subsidize unionization campaigns,” said Paranzino, whose organization wants the federal government to defund ROC, as Congress did with ACORN.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee is investigating whether ROC, in its allied union activity, should be required to follow the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for Watchdog.org and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at kenric@watchdogvirginia.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

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Kenric Ward