Mass Firings in New York Lead Singers to Push Back

The members of Stardust Family United protest outside of Ellen’s Stardust Diner. (Photo: Meg Doherty)The members of Stardust Family United protest outside of Ellen’s Stardust Diner. (Photo: Meg Doherty)A group of servers who serenade patrons at Time Square’s Ellen’s Stardust Diner have now formed a union with — wait for it — the Wobblies (a nickname for the Industrial Workers of the World).

After they unionized earlier this year as Stardust Family United, owner Ken Strum essentially said, “Dream on,” and wrecked the lives of more than 30 staffers by firing them. Now they are picketing outside the venue weekly while singing old union and railroad songs. The waitstaff, consisting of aspiring Broadway actors, decided toorganize when new policies prohibited them from easily switching shifts to attend auditions.

“We want to be clear that all of our terminations have been for valid reasons,” said Strum. “They have been perfectly appropriate under federal and labor laws.”

Stardust Family United has filed multiple unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for violations ranging from threats and intimidation tomass terminations. An investigation is ongoing. This all came about when Stardust Family United was referred by the Wobblies to lawyer Ben Dictor.

And along with a Democratic-led NLRB, organized labor can also sometimes be life’s only recourse for mistreated employees. All the while, workers and sympathizers have been holding “sip-ins” to voice their concerns.

In a sip-in, explained Kristine Bogan, “basically, supporters of the movement organized tables of people to go into the restaurant during the dinner rush, to order small and tip big!” Bogan herself is a terminated employee turned picketer. “They chanted and passed out flyers to customers inside, even joining in on the song ‘Union Maid,’ which we often sing now.”

Other locals have started showing up at the venue to manifest their support for the waiters, also known as “stardusters.” Activists from the clerical workers’ history-rich Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 153 froze tourists, police officers and security guards outside of the 1950s-themed diner when they began tosing Utah Phillips and Pete Seeger songs. Once all the rally-goers began singing inunison, the people’s history in the lyrics became fervently dramatized as in a Broadway musical.