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Union-Backed Org Hailed Disgraced Celebrity Chef Batali as ‘High Road Employer’ in 2012

Chef Mario Batali

The leader of a union-backed group pushing for higher minimum wages heaped praise on disgraced celebrity chef Mario Batali in the past even as it campaigned against sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) named Batali, who stepped down from his company after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, a "high road" employer in 2012. The designation came after Batali's restaurant, Del Posto, agreed to adopt a series of employment reforms and pay workers $1.15 million to address past complaints of missed overtime payments and other issues.

"What we term as the ‘high road’ refers to ethical employment practices that support better conditions for workers, which in turn benefits employers, consumers, and the community at large," Daisy Chung, executive director at ROC-NY, said in a 2012 release. "We are very glad that Del Posto will be part of this program."

The move earned high praise from ROC founder Saru Jayaraman, who launched the nonprofit worker center with the backing of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union in 2002. She urged workers to thank Batali for agreeing to participate in the program.

"Pls RT to thank @mariobatali @delposto 4 resolving worker issues, committing 2 become @roc_ny high road employer," she told her followers in 2012.

Jayaraman used the Batali scandal to criticize a Trump administration's proposal that would allow for pool tipping between front-of-house workers, such as waiters, and back-of-house workers, such as cooks. However, she failed to mention the group's past praise of the chef.

ROC has cited sexual harassment in its criticism of tipping and appeals to raise the minimum wage for restaurant workers in the past. Jayaraman claimed that Republican proposals on tipping would "double the rate of sexual harassment."

"I think it's pretty unconscionable … to actually now be pushing legislation that would double the rate of sexual harassment in the industry that has the highest rates of sexual harassment," she said. "Chef Mario Batali … had to step down from his various positions, including at his own company, because of that very high rate of sexual harassment that he himself perpetrated and allowed managers to engage in."

Joshua Chaisson, a longtime professional server in Maine, told the Washington Free Beacon that he was not surprised by Jayaraman's comments.

"She would not hesitate to throw [Batali] under the bus. She is in the regular business of speaking out of both sides of her mouth," he said.

Chaisson helped lead a coalition of restaurant workers opposed to efforts by ROC and other labor activists to eliminate the tipped minimum wage. The federal government and nearly every state currently mandate different wage standards for tipped and non-tipped employees, recognizing that those who receive tips generally earn more than the minimum wage.

ROC and Jayaraman have campaigned to eliminate the disparity, arguing instead for a $15 minimum for restaurant workers. Chaisson, a self-described "staunch Democrat," said he opposed such policies because they "would eliminate jobs as restaurants turn to automation" to cut costs. He said he supports the Tump administration tip-pooling measure because it would give back-of-house workers access to the money traditionally reserved for waiters.

"The tip pool seems like a logical and reasonable way to give the front and back-of house workers … an incremental raise and an increase in their paychecks," he said. "People who don’t necessarily work in the industry don't understand that we [servers] are looking after everyone in the industry, the front-of-the-house and the back-of-the-house staff."

Jayaraman did not return request for comment.