• Press

Media Advisory for September 17th, 2015
Contact: Maria Myotte, 720 352 6153, maria@rocunited.org

THURSDAY — Darden Employees To Take Action Demanding Fair Wages and Better Working Conditions at Darden Restaurants Inc. Annual Shareholders’ Meeting

Orlando, FL — On Thursday, more than 50 people, including current Darden employees and ‘Dignity At Darden’ campaign leaders, will take action at the Olive Garden parent company’s annual shareholders meeting to be held at Rosen Shingle Creek hotel.

WHO: Dignity At Darden campaign leaders, Darden employees, and community activists
WHAT: Rally, speak-out, creative direct action with interesting visuals including costumes
WHEN: 11:00am – 11:45am
WHERE: Rosen Shingle Creek, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL

In the year since hedge-fund Starboard Value replaced Darden’s entire board, Darden employees have been organizing online and offline in an effort to get Darden Restaurants Inc., the world’s largest full-service restaurant corporation, to listen to their concerns regarding wages and company policies, like the company’s elimination of auto-gratuity.

Board chair Jeff Smith has been in the news for suggesting his leadership would transform Darden into a company that listens to its employees, even saying “We wish to empower the GMs, servers, cooks, hostesses, and all other restaurant employees by listening to their thoughts on restaurant operations. We believe Darden must return to the operationally-focused organization of the past and management must have its ‘ear to the ground’ on restaurant operations.”

However, a survey of 500 Darden employees shows that 94 percent feel the company’s working conditions haven’t changed or have gotten worse since Starboard Value’s takeover. This sentiment is further demonstrated by Darden’s leadership ignoring two petitions started by Darden employees (Darden: We Want A Seat At The Table and Hey Darden — #BringBackAutoGrat), each with thousands of signatures from Darden employees.

“I’ve been a server at Olive Garden for two years — 730 days of living off tips and Pennsylvania’s subminimum wage of $2.83. I’ve been ‘paid’ a near $0 paycheck once a week 104 times,” said Kelly Ditson, an Olive Garden employee and Dignity At Darden campaign leader. “As a mother to two young sons, I am barely scraping by. There have been plenty of nights where after a long day of serving unlimited breadsticks and Italian dishes to a stream of customers, I struggled to put food on my own table. I hope Gene Lee and Jeff Smith do the right thing and agree to meet with the Dignity At Darden campaign to hear our concerns over poverty wages and having a voice in the future of the company.”

Research shows that Darden Restaurants could start all its employees at $15 an hour by increasing menu prices by 10 cents on every $5 in sales; that’s an increase in the average Olive Garden check from $16.75 to $17.10. Olive Garden’s parent company is notorious for paying low wages including paying a significant segment of its workforce $2.13 an hour, the federal tipped minimum wage since 1991.

“Darden may have just gotten coverage for slashing political spending, but don’t be fooled — they are a leading member of the one of the most powerful anti-worker lobbies in the country, the National Restaurant Association, effectively a front group for Fortune 500 restaurant corporations,” said Lauren Jacobs, National Organizing Director for Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United). “Due to the Other NRA’s massive lobbying efforts against fair wage policies, nearly half of all full-service restaurant workers are forced to rely on public support programs to make ends meet. As the world’s largest full-service restaurant company and largest employer of tipped restaurant workers, Darden is among the most guilty for exploiting crucial public support programs as part of their business model.”

Taxpayers pay $9.4 billion every year to subsidize the full-service restaurant industry’s low wages.

Learn more about the Dignity At Darden campaign at dignityatdarden.org.

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Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News) ROC United has grown close to 14,000 worker-members across over 30 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.