Those unlimited breadsticks, breadstick food trucks, and breadstick sandwiches that have been getting Olive Garden major media attention and positive stock ratings don’t cook, prepare, or serve themselves. This seems obvious, but apparently not to Darden, Olive Garden’s parent company and largest full-service restaurant corporation in the world.
Darden employees have organized actions on-the-ground and online through the Dignity At Darden campaign to let Darden know low wages, problematic scheduling, and the elimination of auto-gratuity are among the issues they want the company to fix but the Olive Garden parent company isn’t listening.
That’s why Dignity At Darden campaign leaders are in Orlando for Darden’s annual shareholders meeting TODAY, Thursday, September 17th.
Last year, when hedge fund Starboard Value replaced Darden’s entire board with their hand-picked selections, Dignity At Darden campaign leaders, like then Olive Garden server Steve Gazzo, launched a petition to demand employees have a say in the future of the company, saying “In six years of working at Olive Garden, I’ve noticed that it’s getting harder and harder for employees to make ends meet. I’ve had to move back in with my parents in order to afford to finish my college degree in software engineering. I can’t imagine how my coworkers with kids — coworkers who I care deeply about and spend much of my time with — are able to make it.”
More than 7,000 people, overwhelmingly Darden employees, signed on in agreement that company leaders need to meet with the staff at their restaurants. Then Dignity At Darden campaign leaders stepped it up a notch and showed up at Darden’s annual shareholders meeting last year, hoping to be acknowledged by Darden’s leadership, especially Jeff Smith, the new board chair and president of hedge fund Starboard Value. They didn’t get a meeting but during the shareholders meeting Jeff Smith promised to “increase value for guests and employees.” And when asked why the company got rid of the auto-gratuity policy, CEO Gene Lee said they asked 100 servers who said they favored the change.
Well, in the year since that shareholders meeting, more than 4,500 Darden employees have signed a petition demanding the company reinstate the auto-gratuity policy.
But guess what? The petition’s originator, Darden employee, Estelle Becker Costanzo, hasn’t heard a thing from Darden.
Although Darden is ignoring employees like Estelle, as members of the corporate restaurant lobby (the National Restaurant Association), they are spending big bucks to make sure their preference for low wages and rock-bottom wages for tipped workers is heard loud and clear by elected officials. In fact, Darden is the largest employer of tipped restaurant workers in the country and pays a significant segment of their workforce an abysmal $2.13 an hour, the federal tipped minimum wage since 1991.
Today, Darden employees from across the country are at the company’s shareholders meeting to demand Gene Lee and Jeff Smith start to acknowledge the thousands of Darden workers who have signed petitions to change Darden’s policies.
Dignity At Darden’s campaign leaders want Darden to reinstate the auto-gratuity policy and agree to meet with employees to hear their concerns.