Update, 6:14 p.m.: Sit-in ends after 45 minutes, with the NYPD ordering protesters out of the Vietnamese eatery. Jamie Chen, whom we spoke with earlier, tells us that she and her fellow students took over most of the tables on first floor. There were no arrests. The protesters joined noisy demonstrators outside, chanting “Boycott Saigon Grill.”
Update, 5:49 p.m.: Students, many wearing red, have taken over a number of tables inside the restaurant while television cameras whir.
In a planned demonstration reminiscent of sixties campus radicalism, at least 100 students citywide are expected to stage a protest shortly after 5 p.m. today in front of the trendy Saigon Grill on University Place. The demonstration is a statement against the lockout of some 33 delivery workers who refused to sign in March what they claimed was an illegal contract from owner Simon Nget, a Chinese-Cambodian refugee who also runs an Upper West Side Asian eatery by the same name. The protest is “definitely student generated and initiated,” says Jamie Chen, 20, a Columbia student reached during finals. She says her fellow activist Christina Chen,19, held a teach-in at Columbia’s Hamilton Hall a couple of weeks ago “to talk about the abuses” at the restaurant “and a lot of people want to do something about it.”
Joanne Lin, 19, a sophomore at Barnard and part-time intern at a local bank, also attended the teach-in and will be at the demonstration. She claims students who are members of the revived Students for a Democratic Society from Columbia and Sarah Lawrence will be there. “We want to put pressure on the employers to immediately rehire all of the delivery workers who have been out two months, picketing ten times a week at both locations. And secondly, we want them to obey the law and pay the minimum wage.” Lin claims some of the delivery workers made as little as $1.60 an hour, plus tips.
Anthony Hang, 18, a freshman at Hunter College and demonstrator, notes there had been a teach-in at Hunter after students had seen press coverage on labor troubles at the Saigon Grill and other Asian restaurants in the city. “ I think it’s important for students to realize that these are conditions that working students can face,” he says. Hang, who worked as a part-time busboy last fall, is a member of the militant Chinese Staff and Workers Association, which has helped organized other protests and has filed lawsuits on behalf of workers at the Saigon Grill, Jing Fong in Chinatown, and Ollie’s on the Upper West Side. Karah Newton, an organizer for the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, an offshoot of Chinese Staff, said that today’s demonstrators will include students at NYU, the New School, and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. She describes Nget as “stubborn” to resist efforts by community leaders to resolve the dispute. Delivery service remains suspended at both Saigon Grill restaurants. —Mary Reinholz