Around twenty-five service workers and labor advocates, most of them restaurant workers, casually sat on couches, chairs, and cushions inside Portland’s Equality Community Center on Casco Street Wednesday night to see and discuss the short film City of Servers created by Elora Griswold.
Filmed in the midst of the fight in 2022, led by DSA, to raise the minimum wage and eliminate Portland’s “tip credit,” it interviews various restaurant workers and owners in Portland to ascertain their views on the industry and the possibility of change. Griswold was inspired to make the film because the narrative about the food industry here in Portland was dominated by the owners of establishments, but the voices of the employees who are essential to these establishments are often left out of the conversation.
“The film told the story from the workers’ perspective rather than the business owners,” Katie Schools, organizer for the Coalition said. “The RWC sees it as an opportunity to understand our struggles as collective rather than individual.”
The Restaurant Worker Coalition came about in 2020 in response to the mistreatment of restaurant workers by management in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their “Lofty Purpose” as they call it is “to build a movement of restaurant workers in southern Maine to fundamentally change the state of the restaurant industry. We aim to center & empower restaurant employees and to shift the balance of power from owners to laborers.” The idea of workers in eating establishments having a stronger say in their workplaces continues to guide the Coalition in their organizing.
After the film, small groups were formed to discuss the film and how it related to their experience working in the industry or similar experiences. Workers shared stories of unreliable schedules, lack of benefits, wage theft, sexual harassment, parking issues, and the high cost of housing and how it all affects them in their day to day lives.