Surdna grantees working to reestablish the basic promise that no American working 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty.


Today, the White House will name Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United and author of Behind the Kitchen Door, and Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a leading workers’ rights advocacy organization, as Champions of Change. Both of their organizations are supported by the Surdna Foundation.

Jayaraman and Owens receive this distinction with several activists, advocates, and business owners committed to making a fair and livable wage accessible to everyone and reestablishing the basic promise that no American working full time should have to live in poverty.

“This award is about amplifying the voices of restaurant workers across the country who are living off tips because their base wage is just $2.13 an hour; the waitresses who deal with sexual harassment every day and are told to get used to it because it’s ‘just part of the job’; and the millions of tipped workers who are routinely thrown under the bus at the last minute during minimum wage negotiations,” said Saru Jayaraman. “Raising the tipped minimum wage won’t just help those workers—it could provide our economy with a much needed boost.”

“With the middle class eroding and income inequality exploding, raising wages should be a national priority,” said Owens. “Tens of millions of full-time workers are struggling just to get by, and we need to return to the basic rule of ‘a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.’ That’s why NELP is fighting to raise the minimum wage at the federal level and in states, counties, and cities around the country. It’s time we lift wages across the bottom of the labor market and help build a robust and sustainable economy that benefits us all.”   


NELP has also played a pivotal role in key state and local campaigns over the past decade, including ten successful ballot initiatives, numerous state legislative efforts and virtually all of the nation’s city-level minimum wage laws. NELP’s support for efforts nationally and in the states has helped win higher minimum wages for tens of millions of the nation’s lowest-paid workers and their families. In the past year alone, 12 states along with nine cities and counties have passed minimum wage increases, with a number of states approving rates of more than $10 per hour and Seattle enacting a groundbreaking $15 hourly rate—victories that are changing the nation’s wage-policy landscape.


Over the last five years, ROC has won 13 workplace justice campaigns against exploitative high-profile restaurant companies, obtaining more than $10 million and improvements in workplace policies for restaurant workers. They have also trained more than 1,000 restaurant workers to find good jobs and advance within the industry, published several ground-breaking reports on the restaurant industry, played an instrumental role in winning a statewide minimum wage increase for tipped workers, organized 40 restaurant workers to open their own cooperatively-owned restaurant, and grown to include more than 13,000 restaurant workers in our membership from at least 26 states.

The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. The event will be live streamed on the White House website. To watch this event live, visit  To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, visit


The ceremony takes place today at 1:00 pm EDT. The event will be live streamed on the White House website. To watch this event live,  To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program,

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