Saru Jayaraman

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Sarumathi Jayaraman
Born Sarumathi Jayaraman
1976 (age 41–42)
Nationality American
Education B.A. University of California, Los Angeles
J.D. Yale Law School
Spouse(s) Zachary Norris
Children 2

Sarumathi "Saru" Jayaraman (born 1976) is an Indian American attorney, author, and activist from Los Angeles, California. She is an advocate for restaurant workers in the (San Francisco) Bay Area and co-founder of the non-profit public service organization Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Early life[edit]

Born in 1976, Jayaraman was raised in a primarily Chicano neighborhood in Whittier, California.[1] Her parents emigrated from India to the United States when her father was seeking work as a software engineer. They settled in the Los Angeles area, but Jayaraman's father lost his job when she was a teenager.[2] She was made aware of her class and race at a young age. Her family frequently endured racial slurs and insults. One incident from her childhood occurred when many mechanics refused to service her family's car when it broke down while they were road tripping across Utah.[3]

Higher education[edit]

Jayaraman was accepted to Harvard at the age of sixteen, but her parents wanted her to stay close to home.[4] Sixteen-year-old Jayaraman attended UCLA instead, where she earned her B.A. in International Development Studies and Political Science and graduated summa cum laude in 1995. She continued her education at Yale Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In 2000, Jayaraman was admitted to the State Bars in California and New York.[5] During her time at Yale, Jayaraman studied under MacArthur Foundation Fellowship winner, Jennifer Gordon.[4] Jayaraman was hired at Gordon's organization, the Workplace Project, where she dealt with training and organizing mistreated Latino immigrant workers to become their own advocates in instances of labor abuse.[5]

ROC United[edit]

After September 11, 2001, thousands of workers from the World Trade Center were left jobless.[6] The restaurant at the top of the World Trade was named Windows on the World. Jayaraman worked in partnership with Fekkak Mamdouh, the former chief server of Windows, to represent the displaced workers. The organization Jayaraman and Mamdouh founded together was named the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York. Although it was originally established to help those affected by 9/11, the ROC evolved and became an organizing center for all immigrant restaurant workers in New York. Jayaraman headed the expansion effort and became the co-founder and director of Restaurant Opportunities Center United in 2007.[5][7] ROC United, still headed by Jayaraman and Mamdouh, currently has over 18,000 members across 15 states. The organization deals with workplace justice campaigns, establishing living wages, and protecting workers rights. Jayaraman has been a key player in major advancements for low wage workers across the country.[8] ROC United has won back more than $10 million for its members, and is continuing to fight through the ONE FAIR WAGE Campaign.[7] There are two federal minimum wages in the United States: $7.25 for untipped workers, and $2.13 for tipped workers.[8] Jayaraman spearheads the fair wage campaign which seeks to eliminate this two tier system, and has already done so in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Nevada, Montana, Minnesota and Alaska.[7] ROC United was also instrumental in the passing of Washington's Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act, which assures that all workers can begin accumulating sick leave after one day on the job.[9]

Professional life and other activism[edit]

In 1992, Saru Jayaraman started a non-profit called Women and Youth Supporting Each Other (W.Y.S.E) which "empowers young women by providing the resources and support necessary to make positive life choices and create community change."[10] She was recognized by President Bill Clinton during his commencement speech and was praised as "America at its best."[5] Jayaraman worked as a professor at various colleges in the New York area, teaching classes on a variety of topics, including political science, sociology, immigrants rights, and law. She also conducted research on food workers, sustainability, and urban poverty.[5] Jayaraman has been serving as the leader of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley since 2012. It is the first academic institution to study the relationship between food and labor.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Jayaraman is married to Zachary Norris, and has two daughters named Akeela Lalitha and Lina Abiani Norris-Raman.[2] Jayaraman and Norris met at a Rebelling Lawyers Conference. Norris is now the executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in San Francisco.[3]


Saru Jayaraman has written two books. The New Urban Immigrant Workforce, released in 2005, is about modern methods of labor organizing. It draws on first hand accounts and ethnographies from workers in New York.[11] Behind the Kitchen Door: The People Who Make and Serve Your Food was written in 2013. The book is about sexism, racism, and worker abuse in restaurants.[12] After the best-selling book gained national attention, Jayaraman did television interviews on PBS, CNN, MSNBC, and HBO.[3] In addition to her two books, Jayaraman has published numerous journal articles and technical reports.

Awards and honors[edit]

Jayaraman was named a Champion of Change by the Obama administration in 2014, listed in CNN's "Top10 Visionary Women," and was awarded a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award in 2015. She was named one of Crain's New York Business "40 Under 40," 1010 Wins' "Newsmaker of the Year," and New York Magazine's "Influentials" of New York City."[13] In 2018 she was chosen by the National Women's History Project as one of its honorees for Women's History Month in the United States.[14]

Other accolades:[5]


She attended the 75th Golden Globe Awards in 2018 as a guest of Amy Poehler.[15]


  1. ^ a b "James Beard Foundation". James Beard Foundation. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  2. ^ a b Jayaraman, Saru (2013). Behind the Kitchen Door. ProQuest ebrary: Ithaca, US: ILR Press. 
  3. ^ a b c "Activist at vanguard of restaurant workers' rights". SFGate. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  4. ^ a b Gelles, David (2016-02-20). "An Outspoken Force to Give Food Workers a Seat at the Table". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-30. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Saru Jayaraman" (PDF). 
  6. ^ Sen, Rinku with Mamdouh, Fekkak. The Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c "Our Work - rocunited". rocunited. Retrieved 2016-12-01. 
  8. ^ a b Timm, Jonathan. "A Labor Movement That's More About Women". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-12-01. 
  9. ^ "The CNN 10: Visionary Women". Retrieved 2016-12-01. 
  10. ^ "Women & Youth Supporting Each Other". Women & Youth Supporting Each Other. Retrieved 2016-12-01. 
  11. ^ Jayaraman, Saru, and Immanuel Ness (eds.). 2005. The New Urban Immigrant Workforce. ME Sharpe. New York, NY.
  12. ^ Jayaraman, Saru. 2013. Behind the Kitchen Door: The People Who Make and Serve Your Food. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY.
  13. ^ "Saru Jayaraman | Center for Labor Research and Education". Retrieved 2016-12-01. 
  14. ^ "National Women's History Month: What is it, when did it begin, who is being honored this year?". 25 February 2018. 
  15. ^ CNWN Collection. "Golden Globes 2018: How to Support the Activists' Causes". Allure. Retrieved 2018-01-11.