Tuba-Toting Protesters Swarm Midtown Restaurant, Lawsuit Claims
MIDTOWN — Dozens of drum- and tuba-toting protesters stormed a Midtown restaurant last week and assaulted a customer, heaved trash into the street and blocked the eatery's entrances and exits, a lawsuit alleges.
The protest erupted the afternoon of March 13 when up to 40 people equipped with cymbals, drums, trombones and a tuba crashed through the front doors of Dishes restaurant, a take-out eatery at 6 E. 45th St., according to the lawsuit.
The protesters, made up of a band of former and current staff, along with members of the Occupy Wall Street-affiliated group 99 Pickets, allegedly blocked the aisles and stood behind the store's salad bar, chanting "1,2,3,4…no one should be working poor!" the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, continues.
The protesters allegedly manhandled customers, including "physically grabbing a customer's arm and throwing a leaflet at her chest," and brandished signs declaring "End Wage Theft," "Respect Your Workers," and "Dishes…We Are Watching," according to the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Dishes' corporate owner, City Mint.
"The crowd was extremely loud and aggressive and flooded the store," the suit alleges. "The customers appeared to become very frightened."
The restaurant and its lawyers did not return repeated requests for comment.
The lawsuit names three defendants — including alleged protest leader Nii Yarlai Tacki-Yarboi, a "current employee" at Dishes who "came through the door walking backwards, holding a video camera and motioning everyone to follow him," court records claim.
"We didn't have overtime, vacations," Tacki-Yarboi, a chef who has worked at Dishes for close to 10 years, told DNAinfo.com New York Wednesday while handing out fliers in front of the restaurant.
Tacki-Yarboi added that he and other workers had a meeting with management, in which they were promised 40 hours of work a week, plus time-and-a-half for overtime for all full-time workers. Instead, he said, management turned around and cut workers' existing wages from $15 an hour to $13 an hour.
Tacki-Yarboi was allegedly joined by current and former employees including fellow defendant Joshua Duah, who was fired in February, according to the lawsuit.
Duah handed the restaurant's Chief of Operations David Willner a manila envelope, before telling those assembled, "David has been served,'" according to the lawsuit.
He then allegedly led the protesters as they surged from the store to the sidewalk, where they allegedly "blocked both entrances to the store," held up banners, chanted, and "threw approximately 5-7 large bags of garbage into the middle of 45th Street," according to the suit.
Police called to the scene "appeared to witness all of this, but did not stop or arrest the people who did it" and "appeared reluctant to take [a] statement," the lawsuit states.
The NYPD did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The protesters were inside the restaurant for about 10 minutes, and on the sidewalk for close to a half-hour, the lawsuit alleges.
Wednesday's protest was the first of five demonstrations that have been held every business day since, according to Tacki-Yarboi.
Tacki-Yarboi, Duah and a college student said Wednesday they are determined to continue protesting, even as they struggle to find jobs elsewhere.
"If things are wrong at this place, it has to be rectified," said Duah, a sous chef who worked at the restaurant's salad bar. "If it's not rectified, it'll happen here, and it'll happen at other places. No one is going to do this for you."