Sweatshop Free Upper West Side Rallies the Troops to Battle Saigon Grill

The restaurant, in calmer times.
Saigon Grill is associated more with being the site of labor disputes than for the Vietnamese cuisine it dishes up. It's been embroiled in battles since 2007, and picketers and protesters are a common occurrence in front of the restaurant. Even though the restaurant has been under new ownership since 2010, employees say that working conditions haven't improved. But now the Sweatshop Free Campaign has launched to help bring about justice and stick it to the man.

Over the weekend, the group -- led by residents, students, and community organizations -- came together to protest against Saigon Grill. According to the Columbia Spectator, among the 100 or so protesters in attendance were New York state senators Adriano Espaillat and Tom Duane, along with City Council member Gale Brewer and state Assembly member Linda Rosenthal.

Saigon Grill is a focal point for the Sweatshop Free Upper West Side. Yet according to its website, the "Sweatshop Free Campaign marks a new stage, calling on the entire community to join and create a supportive neighborhood that upholds ethical business practices."

As of Friday, the organization has inspired other neighborhood restaurants and businesses to pledge being sweatshop-free, including Hartley Pharmacy, Apple Tree Supermarket, Flor De Mayo Restaurant, Suba Compounding Pharmacy, Mama Mexico Restaurant , Sol Y Sombra Restaurant, Popover Café, and Famous Amadeus Pizza. Which is noble, yes, but it's important to remember that being sweatshop-free should be standard practice, not the reason for getting a gold star.

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I live across the street from this restaurant and have had to listen to these protests for the last 6 months. To me the issue is about who gets to run the restaurant - the owner or the workers.

Last I checked, no one is being forced to work here, and there are hundreds of other restaurants that any of the "discriminated" workers could work at. Why would you want to return to work for a place that you claim violates basic worker rights, anyway? Not to mention, there is a thing called "employment at will" in this country. None of the workers who were let go have a "right" to work there, any more than the owners have a right to prevent one of the workers from quitting. If any of the let-go workers feel they are being discriminated against, that is for the court to decide and enforce.

The simplest and most effective form of protest, if one were really required, would be for the workers to walk out on the job so the restaurant could not run. This in not happening, however, which leads me to believe they pay a fair wage (at least in the workers' opinion). Instead, residents in the area are forced to listen to incessant cries about boycotting a restaurant in which the workers seem perfectly content at. At least, they seemed perfectly happy when I walked in past 100 yahoos that were protesting when I went into Saigon to get some lunch on Saturday afternoon.