Cleared plate 

Dispute between Andiamo Dearborn and employees finds resolution

A long-running dispute between the Andiamo restaurant chain and a small group of employees represented by the group known as the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan (ROC-MI) was settled last week.

It all started back in November 2009, when some workers at the Dearborn Andiamo and their supporters began staging weekly protests at the eatery. Part of the mix included the ROC group, which provides workforce training and development to restaurant workers. It also conducts research to help promote what are considered the industry's best practices in terms of employee treatment. And then there's what could be considered the third leg of the group's platform, which involves "workplace justice" campaigns aimed at holding what the group described as "low-road actors" publicly accountable.

Andiamo was the group's first target in Michigan. Early on, the chain's owner and president, Joseph Vicari, expressed great dismay that his eatery would be the focus of such a campaign, and said the company had always treated its employees well.

In January 2010, with the workers being represented by lawyers from the nonprofit Sugar Law Center in Detroit, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Complaints were also filed with the National Labor Relations Board and the national Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Central to the dispute was a claim that minimum wage and overtime laws weren't being followed.

Eight workers were demanding $125,000 in pay and damages. The company called the lawsuit frivolous.

The weekly protests continued, with the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO and the UAW throwing their considerable weight behind a boycott. Heat on the company was turned up last summer during the U.S. Social Forum held in Detroit. Restaurant employees and some lefties attending the forum held a protest at the Dearborn site.

Since then, the boycott has continued.

Then, last week, we received a press release announcing a settlement. Actually, there were two press releases. And a little consternation from the Andiamo folks.

According to them, there should have been only one release, with mutually agreed-upon language describing the outcome.

The mutually agreed-upon release stated:

"In reaching this agreement, ROC-MI and Andiamo of Dearborn were able to embrace a resolution that continues and strengthens the restaurant's long-standing and demonstrated commitment to protecting its employees' rights. ROC-MI applauds Andiamo of Dearborn for putting aside good-faith differences to reach a resolution that will include innovative anti-discrimination measures, complaint-resolution procedures, training, hiring, break, uniform and equipment policies, along with translation of employee materials for non-English speakers."

A spokesperson for Andiamo restaurant was quoted in the release as saying, "The restaurant is pleased with the outcome and continues, in its long-standing tradition, to provide equal opportunity and a positive working environment for all of its employees, as well as rewarding hard work and dedication. There has been no finding of wrongdoing on the part of Andiamo of Dearborn, Inc."

And Minsu Longiaru, Coordinator of ROC-Michigan, stated: "This case created a dialogue between the parties which has resulted in all parties being more educated regarding the concerns of both management and restaurant employees. With an open dialogue, management and workers can come together with creative solutions that benefit everyone."

It sounded like one big happy family, with both sides adamantly refusing to discuss how the initial claim asking for $125,000 in pay and damages was resolved.

But there was also a press release from the UAW, forwarded to us by the ROC folks.

Along with language from the first release, this one kicked things up a notch.

"This marks a groundbreaking victory for metro Detroit restaurant workers and the service industry as a whole," they crowed. "In an industry riddled with countless cases of poor employment standards in restaurants across the region, ROC-MI successfully supported and fought for justice for Dearborn workers."

That sparked this response sent to us by one of the lawyers representing Andiamo:

"It is noted that the joint press release does not mention a 'ground-breaking victory,' but does say, 'there has been no finding of wrongdoing on the part of Andiamo of Dearborn.'"

To quote that great philosopher Dean Martin, "That's amore."


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