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House Safety

Employees at Hooters-Style Restaurant Strike protesting racist sexist manager

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Latino immigrant kitchen workers and a group of racially diverse female servers walked out of the Twin Peaks restaurant in Brentwood, Tennessee, on Saturday, Jan. 14. They say their employer is serving up a poisonous brew of racism and sexism.

“We went on strike to fire a manager for verbally and physically abusing my colleagues,” Juan Carlos Mendoza, a barback with six years at the restaurant, told Spanish-language news channel Nashville Noticias. “The manager is a racist… and that’s why we raised our voices.”

Eighteen workers walked out accusing General Manager Andrew “Hunter” Kirkpatrick of racist and abusive behavior, including throwing their lunches away, berating them for speaking Spanish and threatening to call the police. The kitchen staff is an indigenous people from Mexico and Guatemala.

SERVERS ARE CLOSING ON STRIKE

The following Monday, 21 kitchen workers took over the restaurant – now 10 servants have joined an indefinite strike.

“I couldn’t stand by and keep working for someone who was abusive,” said a black waitress who joined the picket line and asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. “We often had days where [Kirkpatrick] berated several front-of-the-house employees so harshly they were moved to tears.

Twin Peaks was founded in 2005 in Dallas, Texas; it has four locations in Tennessee and 100 in the US and Mexico. Brentwood is near Nashville.

Cecilia Prado, director of the worker center Workers’ Dignity in Nashville, described it as “basically a Hooters but more objectifying.” The wait staff wear a uniform of shorts and revealing tops, and the restaurant also holds “lingerie days” that dictate what servers wear and increase the pressure to look a certain way.

EXTENDED REQUIREMENTS

As the workers converged on race, ethnicity, gender and job, their list of demands expanded.

They all want Kirkpatrick gone. Both groups say management steals their tips and doesn’t pay overtime. The servers said they’d noticed a reduction in their take-home tips since Kirkpatrick’s arrival.

The waitresses also want safety training to deal with aggressive customers, and a security guard to escort them to their car. Other Twin Peaks locations have security guards.

The kitchen workers demand the reinstatement of an unjustly fired employee and the right to lunch.

Ricardo Juarez, a chef who has worked at the restaurant for eight years, said Kirkpatrick “started banning the afternoon shift from serving lunch until 10 p.m., once the restaurant wasn’t so busy.” He then threw away two workers’ food and gulped down a cup of water from another worker’s hand, Juarez said.

In one incident, the manager called a kitchen worker “stupid” and pushed him away for not understanding a ticket order, recalls Patricia Mendoza, a barback who has worked at Twin Peaks Brentwood for 10 years.

These offensive incidents affected the organization. “I started talking to my colleagues that we should do something,” Juarez said. They marched to the bosses’ office and met one of the franchise’s co-owners, Daniel Pierce, who asked him to fire Kirkpatrick, telling him that if he didn’t meet their demands on the spot, they were going on strike.

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Pierce shrugged. “We don’t care,” Juarez thought after the meeting. Shortly after, they walked out, forcing the restaurant to close early on a busy Saturday.

THE COMPETITION HAS BEEN CLOSED

Elise Reilly started working at the restaurant last November, alternating between hostess and server. In the beginning everything went smoothly. “On my first day of training [Kirkpatrick] told me… that I had a bright future ahead of me,” Reilly said.

But the praise didn’t last long. “I said something to him that I wanted to make sure the front of the house united with each other instead of competing against each other, which I often saw the girls do.” Then he turned on her, Reilly said.

For wait staff, competition is ingrained in their earning potential. The servers, all women, are ranked by Kirkpatrick according to their appearance, including makeup, hairstyle, and nails. Higher ranking servers can choose restaurant sections and schedules that maximize tips.

Racism, according to Reilly, affects the rankings, especially on lingerie days. “There will be so many women who come in with the best hair, the best makeup, and somehow they ended up at the very bottom of the rankings for no other reason than that they’re not a blonde or a white girl.” Reilly.

HARASSMENT ‘EXPECTED’

Waitresses have reported customers sexually harassing them, including grabbing their genitals. But management blames the employee: “Maybe if you weren’t so flirty.” A server said Kirkpatrick told her to expect harassment, likening customers to kids being taken to a candy store but told they were “not allowed to have anything”.

While dealing with aggressive customers is part of the job, Reilly said the biggest problem at Twin Peaks is management. She doesn’t accept the “general story that men who frequent these bars are creeps.” She said she suffered from harassment whether I was working at Twin Peaks on one of the lingerie days or if I was outside wearing baggy pajamas that didn’t show any part of my figure.

BREAKING BARRIERS

“Until all of this, we never really made eye contact with the back of the house [the strike] happened,” Reilly said. “When we found out that the back of the house was on strike, everyone in the front of the house was communicating with each other and saying, ‘Oh my God, we’ve been through the same thing.’

“Because the back of the house was brave enough to stand up, it opened up this opportunity for all of us to share our stories and unite.”

Management deliberately divided the two groups of employees, preventing them from talking to and from each other even when the restaurant wasn’t busy, Reilly said.

Twin Peaks Brentwood owners Gary Cassatelli and Daniel Pierce did not respond to multiple calls for comment.

The strikers are still figuring out next steps and a growing list of demands. But they are clear that unity between jobs is essential to their struggle from now on.

“We’re not fighting for just one position in the restaurant,” Reilly said. “We fight for everyone in there; everyone who has been there; everyone yet to come – and making sure we all have a happy and safe experience because that’s not what’s been happening lately.

You can contribute to the strikers fundraiser here.