Singing Waiters Organize Against Alleged Unfair Treatment at Ellen's Stardust Diner
BroadwayWorld received a statement today from employees of Ellen's Stardust Diner, "home of the world famous singing waitstaff," who have joined forces with the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) to establish Stardust Family United in order to dispute alleged unhealthy working conditions, disrespectful treatment from owners and management, and fight for higher wages for its non-tipped employees.
The diner features "the future stars of the stage and screen" in a fun and interactive environment - all for the price of a cheeseburger.
The lengthy statement reads:
"Since new management took over operations in January of 2016, a significant number of employees have been targeted, ultimately being terminated or antagonized into leaving the job. Workers are subjected to unsafe and hostile working conditions and have been routinely denied compensation for on-the-job injuries. In order to protect the rights and health of the staff, including all back of house workers, servers, runners, bussers, dishwashers and cooks, Stardusters have joined forces with the IWW, a member-run union for all workers.
"Workers claim management has been dismissive of staff concerns regarding employee safety and working conditions; discouraging communication, intentionally creating confusion, and dodging accountability. After SFU went public on Friday, management removed all messaging abilities from the employee scheduling and messaging system known as "HotSchedules," making it impossible for staff to keep track of communications with management regarding scheduling, policy and procedure, health and safety concerns, and so on. HotSchedules was the only way for staff to communicate with management in writing. They also put the Director of Entertainment, an employee of over 12 years who is in charge of hiring talent, on forced leave.
"Ken Sturm told Sarah Maslin Nir from the New York Times that employee dissatisfaction had 'come as a surprise.' Both current and former employees have reached out to him on multiple occasions with concerns regarding new management and unfair labor practices. Since then, they have taken away multiple benefits that servers have enjoyed for over 15 years. Workers have also been told multiple times by new management to never go to the owner with concerns. In January, workers were told they would be fired if they acted collectively to change policy (in reference to a petition regarding a manager's termination).
"'The owners and management of one of the busiest single location restaurants in the world, one that boasts of their "world famous singing waiters," should be able to provide their employees safe and fair working conditions and wages. The I.W.W. has given us the resources and freedom we need in order to form our own union on our terms,' explain a committee representing the staff who have joined with the Union. 'Employees everywhere are challenged with the same unfair labor practices with which we've been dealing. Employers all over the world are understaffing, overworking, and underpaying their employees in the name of profit. We want workers everywhere to know that with solidarity, you can speak truth to power and stand up against injustice.'
"Ellen's Stardust Diner, the home of the world famous singing waitstaff, is a New York City institution that has been serving up diner classics and live entertainment since 1987. Over the years, Ellen's has grown exponentially into one of NYC's busiest and most profitable restaurants. We provide high volume crowds of all ages the opportunity to enjoy performances from "the future stars of the stage and screen" in a fun and interactive environment, all for the price of a cheeseburger. With an impressive track record of broadway success stories, Ellen's has become not only a beloved tourist attraction, but a springboard for hundreds of New York City's most talented performers chasing their dreams in the Big Apple.
"Thanks to its flexibility in scheduling, a welcoming policy for returning employees, and a work environment that encourages creativity, support and friendship, a position at Ellen's has become one of the most coveted service industry jobs for artists in New York City. Flexible scheduling allows employees to take full advantage of audition opportunities. If an employee in good standing books a show, they have been welcomed back at the end of their contract, providing them financial stability between performing jobs. Additionally, employees share networking opportunities, collaborate on creative projects, and regularly work on performance material. These benefits attract both up-and-coming performers and Broadway veterans alike, making Ellen's a diverse and supportive family of artists from across the globe.
"In January, Stardusters were given notice that the corporation was expanding and a brand new management team would be taking over operations of the diner. The owners and new management team decided to cut labor costs in an attempt to maximize profits, leaving employees overworked without commensurate wage increases. A large number of employees have since been terminated, while others were antagonized and targeted by management until they felt compelled to quit. Workers are now leaving at a rate never before seen at Ellen's, and unfortunately, not to join Broadway casts and national tours. Additionally, employees returning from theatre contracts have been met with resistance when trying to resume work. Our job security has been threatened and our work environment has become unfair, unsafe and hostile.
"Management has been generally dismissive of our concerns regarding employee safety, scheduling, hours, and working conditions; discouraging communication, purposely creating confusion, and dodging accountability. Numerous safety violations have been ignored. Our sound system has never been installed or maintained correctly and is a danger to employees' hearing and vocal health. Employees have been refused workmans comp, sick and vacation pay and there have been numerous unaddressed incidents of sexual, racial, religious, size and age discrimination. There has also been an explicit effort to force out long term employees through malicious and arbitrary disciplinary actions.
"In response to current working conditions, the employees of Ellen's Stardust Diner have organized and are fighting for our rights and the conditions of our employment. Stardust Family United (SFU) represents the interests of all front and back of house staff.
"Our mission is to preserve the Stardust family legacy in order to ensure that future generations of Stardusters and customers alike can enjoy the same experience that gives Ellen's its reputation. In order to do this, we must restore the trust between all employees so that we can move forward as the team we once were.
"SFU is a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the singing union. We are working to guarantee that all employees are safe, secure, fairly compensated and treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
"Any terminations or disciplinary action of any kind by the employer will be considered retaliation for union activity. This is against the law, and we are prepared to take legal steps to protect our rights.
"This is our right and our responsibility.
"We are Stardust (Family United)."
The statement also included a testimonial from Broadway actor Zak Resnick, which reads:
"Ellen's Stardust Diner has been my second home for the last seven years. It has been a safe haven for actors and singers to be able to earn a living while seeking out what they came to the city to do. I will always be grateful to that Ellen's. I met people who have become my family at that Ellen's. However, those days are over. Today's Stardust Diner is no longer a happy place. It is no longer a place that encourages and nurtures a family environment. It is no longer a place that allows "between jobs" actors to earn a respectable living. It is now nothing but a broken establishment full of fear mongering, ego, and distrust. This Stardust Diner is not welcome in my New York City." - Zak Resnick (Mamma Mia, Piece of My Heart, Aida)
The owner of Ellen's Stardust, Ken Sturm, has since released a statement refuting the allegations.
About I.W.W. - The IWW is a member-run union for all workers, a union dedicated to organizing on the job, in our industries and in our communities. IWW members are organizing to win better conditions today and build a world with economic democracy tomorrow. We want our workplaces run for the benefit of workers and communities rather than for a handful of bosses and executives. We are the Industrial Workers of the World because we organize industrially.
This means we organize all workers producing the same goods or providing the same services into one union, rather than dividing workers by skill or trade, so we can pool our strength to win our demands together. Since the IWW was founded in 1905, we have made significant contributions to the labor struggles around the world and have a proud tradition of organizing across gender, ethnic and racial lines - a tradition begun long before such organizing was popular.
We invite you to become a member whether or not the IWW happens to have representation rights in your workplace. We organize the worker, not the job, and recognize that unions are not about government certification or employer recognition but about workers coming together to address common concerns.
Sometimes this means refusing to work with dangerous equipment and chemicals. Sometimes it means striking or signing a contract. Other times it mean agitating around particular issues or grievances in a workplace or industry.
The IWW is a democratic, member-run union. That means members decide what issues to address, and which tactics to use and we directly vote on office holders, from stewards to national offices. Why wait? Join the IWW and organize for a better future.
About Ellen's Stardust Diner - Founded in 1987 by Ellen Hart Sturm, Ellen's Stardust Diner is a unique 50's themed diner with live entertainment provided by its very own wait staff, making it a popular attraction for tourists, school groups, and New Yorkers alike. The restaurant boasts some of New York's most talented vocalists, and has been a stepping stone for over two hundred of Broadway's performers over the past 29 years.