For Immediate Release: June 10, 2015
Contact: Maria Myotte,, 720 352 6153

Leading Restaurant Workers’ Rights Advocate, Academic and Author Saru Jayaraman To Receive James Beard Foundation Leadership Award

This week the James Beard Foundation (JBF) announced the recipients of its prestigious leadership awards recognizing specific outstanding initiatives as well as bodies of work and lifetime achievement.

Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United and the Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley, is being recognized for leadership in transforming the American restaurant industry, specifically her research, policy work, and efforts to create just workplace environments for all restaurant employees.

“I am honored to be among the recipients of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards. To be selected among such visionary individuals, both this year’s recipients and those that have come before, is not only humbling but gives me great hope that we are winning our fight to ensure restaurant workers — the people who touch, cook, prepare, and serve food to countless millions of us each year — will soon be guaranteed the dignity of fair wages and safe work environments,” said Saru Jayaraman.

ROC United has published over two dozen ground-breaking and widely cited reports on the restaurant industry, including the first-ever national survey of tipped restaurant workers that brings to light their widespread experience of sexual harassment and the connection of this prevalent problem to the separate, lower minimum wage for tipped workers. “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry,” published in partnership with Forward Together, revealed that a staggering 90% of women tipped restaurant workers experience sexual harassment on the job, and that women in states with a tipped minimum wage as low as $2.13 an hour were twice as likely to experience sexual harassment than in states with the same minimum wage for all workers. ROC United has published several other reports uncovering the industry’s endemic health and safety issues including a lack of paid sick days, occupational segregation whereby qualified restaurant workers of color are systematically shut out of the industry’s limited living-wage jobs, the National Restaurant Association’s history of lobbying and political influence, as well data and analysis demonstrating a clear business case for restaurant employers to adopt “high road” practices such as living wages and and other basic benefits.

Additionally, ROC United mobilizes workers, employers, and consumers to seek better wages and working conditions for the nation’s largest and lowest-paid workforce, the restaurant industry, through workplace justice campaigns, workforce development programs that move low-wage restaurant workers to livable-wage jobs and policy advocacy. ROC has led numerous policy victories in various cities and states for improved wages and working conditions for workers, trained more than 5,000 workers to advance to livable wage jobs and recouped more than $10 million in misappropriated tips and wages for low-wage restaurant workers.

Saru Jayaraman, also a professor at Berkeley, has published two books with a third due from Oxford University Press in 2016. Her most recent, Behind The Kitchen Door(Cornell University Press, 2013) was a national best-seller heralded as a groundbreaking exploration of the political, economic, and moral implications of dining out.

Also receiving awards in 2015 are farmer Don Bustos, former advisor on nutrition to the White House Sam Kass, agricultural research Eliot Coleman and chef and food justice activist Bryant Terry.

They will be honored at an Oct. 19 ceremony and dinner co-hosted by Good Housekeeping magazine during the sixth annual James Beard Foundation Food Conference in New York City, according to a press release from the group.


For more information about the James Beard Foundation, please visit