Workers of ELEPHANT SNACK CAFÉ protesting in their claim for over $210,000 in back overtime wages. There were pickets every Friday at the Corner of Western and James Wood in Los Angeles.
For what seemed like forever, NCRR members received Tuesday e-mails from KIWAs Liz Sunwoo stating something to the effect, "Come to the Elephant Snack picket this Friday at 6pmumbrellas provided if it rains!" The reminders also included news about the owners desperate tactics to avoid paying eight former workers of Korean and of Latino descent their back wages.
E-mails continued for almost a year as the absentee restaurant owner used one excuse after another in a futile attempt to discourage the workers from pursuing workplace justice. With admirable perseverance, the fired workers, KIWA and their supporters maintained a weekly picket, which eventually became a daily boycott outside the restaurant. Community organizations such as NCRR showed their support by sponsoring individual "picket nights" and, in a show of unity, there were periodic rallies in which unions, students, community organizations and supporters all gathered at Elephant Snack to voice their disapproval of the restaurant owner.
The rallies were effective because they demonstrated to the workers and businesses in Koreatown that there were hundreds of people willing to come out to show their support for the eight fired employees. "Wow, I was amazed at the great numbers of community people that showed up at Elephant Snack," stated Janice Yen of NCRR. "We brought a group of teachers from Japan to one of the demonstrations, and they got into it too. They held some picket signs, joined the chants and listened to the speeches. I have to give a lot of credit to the organizing skills of Paul Lee, Liz Sunwoo and the others at KIWA."
In March, the owner finally agreed to pay back wages and other compensation to his eight former workers. In the unprecedented agreement Elephant Snack agreed to let KIWA and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) hold educational seminars for current employees and monitor the restaurants payroll practices for a period of three years.
Other restaurant owners in Koreatown have taken notice of KIWAs successes in redressing workers complaints. They know that KIWA boldly uses pickets and community boycotts when mediation fails. A KIWA survey in 1999-2000 found that great improvements have been made in Koreatown, including increases in minimum wages and increased worker awareness of their rights. As a result of KIWAs work and the feeling among workers that they can empower themselves, a multiethnic group of workers have formed the Restaurant Workers Association of Koreatown (RWAK).