ROC -in- Detroit with Jane Fonda


Dustin Blitchok , Benzinga Staff Writer

I’ve been an admirer of Jane Fonda for decades. I literally carry around a list of my top ten favorite ladies (not relatives or friends) and she’s on the list. Grace & Frankie is currently one of my favorite shows but beyond that, On Golden Pond is a favorite movie, I have her work out videos, her autobiography is tied for my favorite with Lauren BaCall and her passion for activism inspires me. When I learned she was going to be at an event this weekend I could not pass up the opportunity. I had NO idea what to expect and honestly didn’t even know what the event was for but I hit the town solo and was not disappointed.

The downtown fundraiser for ROC Detroit was a grassroots affair and when I arrived nearly 30 minutes early, Jane Fonda was literally at the door greeting guests. Part of me was surprised to see her there but having read about her penchant for professionalism it also fit my image of her.

A couple older ladies were hoovering around her and offered to take my picture and get my book signed. I thought they were staff but it turned out they were simply fangirls – serious fangirls. Luckily, they made me appear almost casual even though I was beyond thrilled. Having unceremoniously shrieked in the faces of Hillary Clinton and Mary McDonnell in my youth, I took the reserved approach and said very little during the picture and book signing. Jane thought my screensaver of Clark Gable was her dad which was funny. Later I saw her and asked if she thought the healthcare bill would pass (she said no) and jokingly asked if she watched CNN (she got the joke and watches MSNBC these days).

Jane Fonda was exactly what she seems. Stunning, gracious with overzealous fans, willing to take a million pictures with every type of camera (and checks the picture to make sure it’s a good one), complimentary of servers and musicians – a complete professional and lady…

When the program began I learned what the fundraiser was about and why Jane was in Detroit.

Turns out 400,000 of the nation’s 12 million food service workers are in Michigan that’s a sizable over representation for a 50 state nation. These workers are not subject to minimum wage laws and servers earn merely $3.38 an hour. Additionally, over half of all tipped workers are women – many of them supporting families.

So why Jane Fonda?

Like many across this country, the election results were shocking, paralyzing and simply unbelievable. They were also motivating. She joined a gathering for thought leaders in New York and met Saru Jayaraman. Saru told her about ROC’s mission to advocate for fair wage legislation and their pilot project in Michigan. Because we have so many food service workers, our ‘battleground state’ reputation and history of collective action, ROC is initiating a state-wide grassroots campaign to get the issue on the ballot in 2018.

Some interesting points on the issue:

  • You don’t tip the clerk at Target but restaurant owners ask their customers to pay their workers. It simply doesn’t make sense.
  • The history of tipping has its roots in slavery. The food service industry would let freed slaves work but would not pay them, instead they were reliant on tips.
  • Sexual harassment is rampant and without recourse because servers are reliant on tips to make money.
  • A separate but equally compelling point is that the industry practice is also a public health issue because servers can’t afford to be unpaid and often go to work sick – jeopardizing their own health and exposing customers to illness.
  • Fair wage advocate and restaurateur Paul Saginaw was present and assured everyone that paying employees would not be an unjust burden on business. His deli Zingerman’s is renown for how it treats its employees. Read more here.

Jane Fonda is rich. The problems faced by food service workers does not impact her every day life but it does impact her livelihood. She’s seen the world and knows what happens when wealth is concentrated to the very top – violence. Especially violence against women. She doesn’t want to see the things she’s seen in third-world countries happen in ours.

Jane is fighting so that food serve workers can enjoy the same wage protections a gas station attendant has. She’s fighting so women won’t feel the need to subject themselves to sexual harassment for the sake of a better tip. She’s fighting to help shrink the wealth inequality in this country to prevent further fractions and future violence in our country.

My star-struck awe was quelled after listening her speech and my activist spirit was rallied. Not only did she make a compelling and compassionate speech about the importance of ROC and its mission, she said things about the election, the results and the Democratic party that I’ve been saying for year. She encouraged everyone to not pass judgement on those who voted for Trump but to start a dialog and listen with an open heart to understand their motives. Trump voters don’t want to hear bad things about their candidate but some may be open to discussing his policies and the impact they will have. Furthermore, Democrats will not win if they/we continue to ignore the issues and focus on candidates.

This is the beginning of a long campaign Jane is supporting in Michigan. She will be advocating for this ballot measure across the state in the coming months. I plan to get involved and hope my fellow Michiganders will look into this issue for themselves and support wage equality.


Jane Fonda

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