A Voice for Oakland's Restaurant Workers



History shows us that social justice movements often start with one agitator for change. For restaurant workers in Oakland, Katie Lefkowitz may just be that firebrand.

Lefkowitz has worked in the East Bay restaurant industry for the last five years. From the beginning, she saw an unusual disconnect: While much attention is paid to the welfare of animals served in farm-to-table establishments, no one seems to pay much mind to the workers. "We've got no benefits, no job security," she said. "Who's looking out for us?"

While she admits that Oakland's working conditions are no worse than in much of the country, Lefkowitz gazes longingly across the bay. In 2007 San Francisco implemented some of the most progressive laws for restaurant workers in the country. First and foremost, its minimum wage is the highest in the nation (nearly $10 an hour), and restaurant owners are not allowed to pay less than other employers just because of tips.

Additionally, SF restaurant workers are given mandatory sick leave, and employers are required to provide health insurance directly or through contributions to the city's universal health care plan, Healthy SF. Lefkowitz, who has spent time organizing unions and assisting San Francisco's Young Workers United, feels the East Bay's progressive backbone could be very receptive to reforms like San Francisco's.

Her plans are still in the formative stages, but the next step is to draft a rough working proposal and enlist the help of an Oakland City Council member. Lefkowitz is also seeking broader support and can be reached at katesonia at gmail dot com.

Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com.