WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - U.S. Rep. Darrel Issa, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter Tuesday to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis regarding the department's funding of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United.

The letter asks for documents so the committee can investigate the relationship. Issa is a Republican from California.

The organization, which was initially founded after 9/11 to provide support for restaurant workers who lost their jobs, has transformed into a group that stages protests outside of restaurants.

Issa noted that ROC organizes protests alleging unsafe or unsanitary conditions at certain restaurants and poor treatment of workers. Often the group "harasses" restaurant patrons, according to Issa's letter.

But Issa says ROC operates a restaurant in New York City called Colors, which is guilty of the same offenses it accuses other restaurants of committing. ROC's restaurant has received numerous citations for serious health violations during the past two years, Issa said.

He cited some of these violations, such as mice present in the food area, unsanitary food preparation surfaces, food not protected from potential contamination and other issues. He emphasized that these violations occurred during multiple Health Department inspections.

Issa noted that ROC's labor relations history is checkered. They were sued by several members who were promised an ownership share of the restaurant, but it allegedly never delivered on its promise.

What the Committee wants to know is why the DOL formed an alliance with and is funding an organization that is so controversial. Simply put, Issa asks Solis why it is supporting a group which has a "history of intimidation towards its opponents and management problems with its own restaurant."

According to Issa: ROC obtained a $275,000 federal grant in 2009; the Assistant Secretary of Labor, William Spriggs, spoke at an ROC conference in 2011; OSHA formed an alliance with ROC; and Solis personally introduced the leader of ROC at an event for restaurant workers also in 2011.

"The purpose of our organization is to improve the working conditions for restaurant workers. Our complaints center around discrimination, wages, and issues of working condition," said Meghana Reddy, Communications Coordinators for ROC.

The National Restaurant Association did not respond to requests for a comment.

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