The famous singing waiters at New York theatre district attraction Ellen’s Stardust Diner are unhappy with working conditions, and have formed a union, Stardust Family United, in association with the Industrial Workers of the World.
A group of 50 employees notified restaurant owner Ken Sturm that they had formed the union and were seeking several changes, including a way to “dispute unhealthy working conditions, disrespectful treatment from owners and management, and fight for higher wages for its non-tipped employees,” according to a union statement, obtained by Playbill.com.
In a letter shared with Playbill.com, signed by the Ellen's Stardust Diner Family, it was alleged that “we bust our butts to provide the optimal guest experience for people from all over the globe, and we are being bullied, sexually harassed, and abused by our higher-ups....”
The letter names several recently-hired managers by name and says, “They bully us, intimidate us, mock us, de-value us, and treat us as if they are dictators of their own country and we are insipid little actors and restaurant employees that deserve to be mistreated.”
Sturm released the following statement to Playbill.com August 29: “We have always treated our staff quite well—with fairness, flexibility and respect. We for years had a relaxed approach to managing the restaurant, allowing the staff to make their own schedules, for example, something you’d never see in any restaurant in the country. But we realized more recently that we needed to operate more efficiently, so we needed to make adjustments. We still allow for schedule changes based on our staff’s theatrical pursuits, but management needs to be involved in the process so we are properly staffed. We have to run a restaurant and serve our customers, and our customers are our top priority.”
Strum added, “The safety of our staff is also very important, as we’ve made more than $80,000 in upgrades and improvements to the restaurant, with our staff in mind. We are proud to have a staff, where the average tenure is eight years, that is a true cross-section of America, consisting of people of all backgrounds. We understand that people can get nervous when changes are made. We’re happy to work with their representatives to address whatever concerns they have.”
The union claims that since the unionization was announced on August 26, “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.”
The diner which stands at the corner of Broadway and 51st Street, opened in 1995, and is named for Sturm’s mother, Ellen Hart-Sturm. It’s known for hiring aspiring actors, and offers experience for pay in front of live audiences.
This is a developing story. Continue to check back for updates.
(Updated August 29, 2016)