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Time for a Raise in the Minimum Wage

By Amy Goodman (crossposted via Truthdig)

The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is rapidly approaching, commemorating the historic Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington. But 45 years ago, 1968, the year of his assassination, King was waging the Poor People’s Campaign to eradicate poverty. He addressed the congregation at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., saying: “We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia.”

That was March 31, 1968, four days before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., where he had gone to march in solidarity with striking sanitation workers.

The minimum wage that year was at its historic high, in terms of real purchasing power. It was first established in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said “Our nation so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population should be able to devise ways and means of insuring to all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

Forty-five years after King launched his Poor People’s Campaign, poverty is again at crisis levels. That all-important bulwark against poverty, the minimum wage, is now $7.25 per hour, a result of a bill signed into law by President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama, when he was first elected, promised a minimum wage of $9.50 by 2011. In his 2013 State of the Union address, having failed to make that goal, he said: “Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead.”

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is not impressed by the president’s rhetoric. “Has there been a bigger con man in the White House than Barack Obama?” Nader asked angrily. “He hasn’t lifted a finger since he made those statements … he said nothing for four years on raising the minimum wage. He made no pressure on Congress. He hasn’t even unleashed people in his own White House on this issue.”

Nader is out with a new book, “Told You So,” which is fiercely critical of the Obama administration on a wide range of issues, from coddling corporate criminals to the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. He continued, on the minimum wage: “The cruelty is unbelievable here. We are an advanced Third World country. We have great military equipment and science and technology. Half of the people in this country are poor. They can’t even pay their bills. They’re deep in debt. … Thirty million workers in this country are making less today than that workers made in 1968, inflation-adjusted. These are the workers who clean up after us, grow our food, serve us in the stores, take care of our ailing grandparents. … These are the workers that are most underemployed, underinsured. They work in often the most dangerous situations. They don’t have unions.”

Nader, a four-time presidential candidate, is calling for people to issue a “summons” to their respective members of Congress in the form of a petition obtainable at the website, and to demand public meetings during the congressional recess in August.

And it’s not just Ralph Nader. The International Human Rights Clinic at New York University’s School of Law has just released a new study, “Nourishing Change: Fulfilling the Right to Food in the United States.” They report that 50 million individuals—that’s one in six Americans—live in a household that cannot afford adequate food. Of these, nearly 17 million are children. Despite this, Congress is moving to weaken food security program funding, like food stamps.

King’s words from that National Cathedral speech ring true today, as we face again the crisis of poverty and hunger: “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.”

Take action here

DIME A DAY: The Impact of the Miller/Harkin Minimum Wage Proposal On The Price of Food (scroll down to read full report)

October 24th: Our new report released today in observation of national Food Day 2012 says that a proposal pending in U.S. Congress to raise the minimum wage would increase retail food prices for American consumers by at most 10 cents a day, while helping nearly 8 million food workers and 21 million workers in other industries.

The report from the recently established Food Labor Research Center, based at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, along with the Food Chain Workers Alliance and ROC United looks at the proposed “Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012.” The act would represent the first increase in the non-tipped minimum wage in five years and the first in 21 years for tipped workers, who because they make $30 or more in tips a month, can be paid less than other workers.

“Food workers are some of the lowest-paid workers in America, and they face much higher levels of food insecurity than the rest of the U.S. workforce,” said Saru Jayaraman, director of the Food Labor Research Center. “Our report shows that raising the minimum wage would help them put food on the table while barely, if at all, impacting everyone else’s ability to put food on their tables, too.”

The report, “A Dime a Day: The Impact of the Miller/Harkin Minimum Wage Proposal on the Price of Food,” is authored by Jayaraman and Chris Benner, an associate professor of community and regional development at UC Davis. Jayaraman also is the co-founder and co-director of ROC-United.

The country’s food system is the largest employer of minimum wage workers, who hold positions ranging from agricultural field hands and food processing plant workers to cooks in diners and waiters in high-end restaurants.

The bill, introduced last summer by Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.) in the U.S. House of Representatives and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in the U.S. Senate, calls for incremental increases of 85 cents an hour for each of the next three years to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.80 an hour.  Similarly, this would raise the tipped minimum wage from its current $2.13 an hour to 70 percent of the full federal minimum wage.

“Raising the minimum wage at its core is about respecting and valuing work,” said Representative George Miller (D-Calif.).  “No one who works hard every day and plays by the rules should live in poverty. It’s also good economic policy. Giving minimum wage workers a raise will help millions of working families make ends meet and help grow the economy.”

Jayaraman and Benner said that even if employers passed along 100 percent of the wage increase to consumers:

●       – Grocery store prices would increase less than half of 1 percent, on average, over the three-year phase-in of the new minimum wage
●       – Restaurant food prices would increase by less than 1 percent a year

The average U.S. household spends $3,827 a year on food eaten at home and another $2,634 on food eaten out. In real numbers, the researchers say, the price of a $20 restaurant meal would increase 45 cents over three years, and grocery bills would rise less than 3 cents per day. Conversely, non-tipped wages would increase by 33 percent, and tipped workers would see more than a 100 percent wage increase. Together, over the three years the law would need to fully take effect, these increases would translate into a cost of at most 10 cents more per day, on average, for American households.

The federal minimum wage for tipped workers has been frozen at $2.13 for 21 years, with 70 percent of the affected workers employed in the restaurant industry. Sixty-six percent of them are women.  Employers are supposed to ensure that tips bring every employee to the full federal minimum wage, but data collected by ROC-United shows that this rarely happens.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, passage of the Miller/Harkin legislation would add $40 billion to the economy through higher wages, while adding 100,000 net jobs and increasing the Gross Domestic Product by roughly $25 billion.

“We rely on food system workers to bring our food to our tables – workers on farms and in food processing plants, warehouses, grocery stores, and restaurant and food service establishments,” said Joann Lo, executive director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. “It’s a sad irony that food system workers rely on food stamps at one-and-a-half times the rate of the general workforce. Raising the minimum wage can help lift food workers, and workers in other industries, out of poverty.”

In conjunction with the release of “A Dime A Day,” and with Shannon Kuhn, a member of the Organic Consumers Association and a former restaurant worker, the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United are launching a consumer petition on calling on members of Congress to support the Miller/Harken Fair Minimum Wage Act. The petition also states that the signatories are willing to pay a dime a day extra for food so that millions of workers can benefit from the increased minimum wage. The petition is live at


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“Behind the Kitchen Door: The Hidden Reality of Philadelphia’s Thriving Restaurant Industry” reveals shocking evidence of injustice and inequality in one of Philadelphia’s fastest growing economic sectors

Philadelphia, PA , October 10, 2012 – Today, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Philadelphia hosted a Summit to discuss the startling findings of our new report, Behind the Kitchen Door: The Hidden Reality of Philadelphia’s Thriving Restaurant Industryand the implications for Philadelphia’s economic development, public health, and working conditions. Speakers included Stephen Herzenberg, Executive Director of Keystone Research Group, City Councilman James Kenney, City Councilman William Greenlee, Jeanne Chang owner of Lil’ Pop Shop and other owners and restaurant workers.

According to Stephen Herzenberg, “Restaurant industry worker, consumers, and good employers all suffer because other employers take the low road to profitability, paying low wages, and few or no benefits. Behind the Kitchen Door provides fresh and compelling evidence of this reality but also makes clear that it doesn’t have to be that way. The report provides a road map to a Philadelphia restaurant industry with better jobs, high-quality service, and better health for workers and restaurant
customers.” Currently in Philadelphia, 62.1% of restaurant workers fall below the poverty line for a family of three. Victoria Bruton, a 40 year old African American woman with 2 daughters and 22 years of experience as a server in the restaurant industry, experienced this firsthand. “We lived with my parents because it was impossible for me to support myself and my children while making approximately $200 to $350 a week…We were eligible for food stamps, Medicare and subsidized day care. Vacations, a car and our own home were luxuries that we could not afford, nor was maintaining a savings account.”

Additionally, Philadelphia surpasses the national average of restaurant workers who lack access to earned sick days, with a startling 92.8% of restaurant workers without earned sick days. According to Steven Herzenberg, “without access to earned sick days, restaurant workers in Philadelphia are regularly faced with the unfair choice of keeping their job or taking care of their health.”

Low wages and a lack of benefits available to restaurant workers has resulted in nearly 12% of restaurant workers relying on emergency room care when they are unable to afford medical care. Jason Robbins, a career cook with 15 years experience, reports that emergency room care has been his primary source of medical care. “Last month I was hit by a truck while riding my bike. I had to take a few weeks off work and as a result I didn’t have enough money to pay my rent. Tomorrow I am getting evicted. C’est la vie of a restaurant worker.”

CLICK HERE to read the Executive Summary & Full Report

Those Who Serve Romney in the 47% By Saru Jayaraman

Over the last week a lot has been said about the video that surfaced of Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney speaking to potential donors about the 47% of Americans whom he believed would vote for President Obama – a group he denigrated for its dependency on government aid. When I saw the video, I noticed some unidentifiable bodies passing in front of the hidden camera that none of the pundits seemed to comment on: they were food servers, scurrying to bring or clear plates for the elite crowd. Though clearly visible in that video, these workers, many of whom are the very people Romney is referring to, have been as invisible in the last week of political analysis as they generally are every time we eat out.

What would those workers have been thinking about Romney’s comments as they served his cronies? Probably their own survival. Food service workers are the lowest-paid workers in America; the Bureau of Labor Statistics consistently ranks restaurant worker jobs as six of the ten lowest-paying jobs in America. With a median wage below $9 an hour, food servers in particular suffer from three times the poverty rate of the overall U.S. workforce, and use food stamps at double the rate of all other workers!

Romney’s words imply that these food servers using food stamps, like other people using government aid, do so because they choose such a lifestyle; they are lazy or unwilling to find more lucrative employment and feel entitled to government aid.

In truth, most people choose to work in the restaurant industry – which our research has shown to be difficult, high-stress, and highly risky work – because these are the jobs available in our current economy.  With over 10 million jobs, the restaurant industry has been one of the few sectors to grow during the recent economic crisis.

Food service workers find themselves dependent on food stamps – a terrible irony –not because they want to, but because the industry, led by Romney’s wealthy peers, has lobbied to keep wages abysmally low. The National Restaurant Association has lobbied successfully to keep the federal minimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13 for the last twenty-one years.

A true leader in this fight has been the Darden Restaurant Group. Owner of the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille Steakhouse, Longhorn Steakhouse, and more, Darden is the world’s largest full-service restaurant group. Darden’s CEO Clarence Otis earns $8 million annually; a report released last month by Governance Metrics International (GMI) gave Darden a letter grade of “D” due to its over-inflated management salaries and severance package. Meanwhile, Otis and upper management have directed the company to spend millions in the last few years lobbying Congress to keep employment standards low.  Darden also has quadrupled its PAC donations to $684,000 in order to increase our relationship-building with policy makers.

Last week, my organization took a group of Darden employees to speak at the company’s annual shareholder meeting at a posh Marriott resort in Orlando, Florida. The meeting was packed with the company’s highest-level management, wearing expensive tailored suits and hovering around Otis like a pack of bodyguards. The workers respectfully brought up issues like the company’s incredibly low wages and lack of paid sick days – which resulted in a Hepatitis A outbreak at an Olive Garden in North Carolina last year – and asked Otis to meet with them to discuss. Otis dismissed every one of them, saying that “your people” – unhappy workers – could “walk across the street” to another restaurant. A long-time investor unrelated to my organization stood up with concern; as someone who ate at Darden restaurants regularly he worried that the company was losing its best talent because of the low wages and benefits. Afterward, this investor told us that he had done the math; if the upper management cut a miniscule portion of their inflated salaries, workers’ wages could increase by almost $3.

Shortly after the meeting, we released a report, “Darden’s Decision,” which both provided affordable alternatives for Darden and outlined how the current practices hurt workers, investors, and consumers. We’re asking everyone to call upon the company to sit down and meet with its employees.

In fact, we all suffer when the workers who touch our food are living in poverty and unable to take a day off when sick. Even Romney’s wealthy donor circle would have been exposed to illness! Since our research shows that 90% of food service workers don’t have access to paid sick days, and with such low wages two-thirds report not being able to take a day off from work while sick, it is overwhelmingly likely that one of those unidentifiable bodies passing in front of the hidden video camera was working while sick. Romney spoke callously about the 47% and then would have sat down to a meal touched by someone in that 47% who more than likely would have been struggling to survive.

Saru Jayaraman is the Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and the Director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Her book, Behind the Kitchen Door, is forthcoming in February 2013 by, Cornell University Press.

Worker & ROC-NY Dispute at Del Posto Resolved, Star Chef Mario Batali to Become “High Road Employer”

September 24, 2012 –Restaurant workers who are members of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) have signed a settlement agreement with their employer, Del Posto Restaurant, owned by celebrity chef Mario Batali. The settlement resolves a 2010 lawsuit alleging lost minimum wage, overtime, spread-of-hours pay, and tip misappropriation; and EEOC charges of race and national origin discrimination and retaliation. The 31 plaintiffs will receive $1.15 million. The settlement is a good-faith, constructive conclusion to a 2-year lawsuit that was part of a larger organizing campaign by workers at Del Posto with the assistance of ROC-NY, a non-profit workers center dedicated to improving conditions in the restaurant industry. Del Posto and its principals have denied all of the workers’ allegations and maintain that they remain committed to ensuring that employees receive all compensation to which they are entitled, including all tips (see article in Wall Street Journal).

ROC-NY has also worked in tandem with Del Posto and its principals to supplement existing workplace policies that improve conditions for all workers at the restaurant, including:

- expansion of paid sick days policies

- a promotions policy

- cultural sensitivity training for management

- expansion of paid vacation policies, & more!

Further, Del Posto has agreed to work together with ROC-NY to become a “High Road Employer” in the industry. ROC-NY’s High Road Program seeks to provide restaurant owners with a path to the high road to profitability in the industry. “What we term as the ‘high road’ refers to ethical employment practices that support better conditions for workers, which in turn benefits employers, consumers, and the community at large,” said Daisy Chung, Executive Director at ROC-NY. “We are very glad that Del Posto will be part of this program.” The settlement marked the resolution of ROC-NY’s 10th workplace justice campaign.

The settlement has also resonated with the sustainable food movement. “While Del Posto has sustainable food sourcing practices, their interest in providing a better workplace for their employees demonstrates their desire to adopt a more comprehensive sustainability model in the food sector,” said Josh Viertel, Executive Director of Slow Food USA. “As an employer that many other restaurant owners look to as a success story, Del Posto’s high road practices will encourage others in the industry to do the same, which will change the lives of more restaurant workers throughout the City.”

The workers were represented by Lewis, Clifton & Nikolaidis and Levy, Davis & Maher. Del Posto was represented by Littler Mendelson and Fox Rothchild.

Groundbreaking New Report on Darden Restaurants

Groundbreaking new report details low-road employment practices of world’s largest restaurant group

- Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille Poor Working Conditions Creating Investor Liability – 


DOWNLOAD “Darden’s Decision” HERE or scroll down to read entire report

Orlando, FL, September 18, 2012 – Today, a groundbreaking new report, “Darden’s Decision: Which Future for Olive Garden, Red Lobster, & Capital Grille” was released by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United along with Central Florida Jobs with Justice, South Florida Jobs with Justice, the Food Chain Workers Alliance and Family Values @ Work. The report was released directly following Darden’s annual shareholder meeting.

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (Darden) is the world’s largest full service restaurant company, and home to some of the nation’s most beloved restaurant brands including Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Capital Grille, with over 2000 locations across the globe. ROC’s latest report outlines the ways in which Darden’s current employment practices have created liabilities for the company with regard to workers, consumers, and investors, and offers an alternative path to profitability. These practices not only threaten the public health, but also threaten to damage the reputation of their strongest brands, impacting shareholders both large and small.

The report is being released on the heels of both Darden’s own recently-released Sustainability Report, and a report released last month on Darden by Governance Metrics Analysis (GMI), the largest and most respected independent evaluator of corporate governance practices. GMI gave Darden a letter grade of “D” for overall governance, and particularly highlighted the fact that Darden CEO’s exorbitant pay and severance package create both tax liability and conflict of interest for the corporation.

Most shockingly, during the last several years of national economic crisis, Darden dramatically expanded its lobbying expenditures, spending almost $1 million annually to advocate against laws that would mandate disclosure of management compensation and prevent any improvements in employment standards.

“Darden’s sustainability report indicates laudable goals with regard to its practices,” says Saru Jayaraman, Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. “If it lived up to these goals, the company could improve standards industry-wide. Unfortunately, the company not only does not live up to these goals but also actively lobbies to keep industry standards low.”

Darden employees and consumers have charged the company with wage theft, discrimination, paying unsustainable wages as little as $2.13, and denying employees the ability to earn paid sick days.  The lack of paid sick days resulted in a Fayetteville, NC Olive Garden worker coming in to work while suffering from Hepatitis A in 2011.  This forced the Cumberland County Health Department to immunize thousands of diners to prevent a dangerous Hepatitis A outbreak, and ultimately led to a class action lawsuit by over 3000 residents.

Darden regularly pays the lowest wages possible to its employees.  The federal subminimum wage has been stuck at $2.13 since 1991.  Darden has lobbied to keep minimum wages stagnant, while Darden’s executive compensation of the CEO has risen 23% per year on average since 2005 to its current level of 8.5 million in 2011.

The report outlines Darden’s recent wage theft lawsuits, including several Texas-based federal lawsuits for nonpayment of wages, and a California class action lawsuit in which the company was charged with forcing its workers to pay for the cost of purchasing and maintaining uniforms, in which the company was forced to pay employees $9.5 million.

The report also outlines recent lawsuits against Darden for employment discrimination based on race, including a 2008 lawsuit that charged that Beachwood, Ohio Bahama Breeze employees of color were repeatedly pelted with racial slurs such as “Aunt Jemima” and “stupid n**ger” by managers.  This resulted in a EEOC announcement of a $1.26 million settlement from Darden in 2009.  In describing the settlement, EEOC’s acting chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru said “No worker should have to endure a racially hostile work environment in order to earn a paycheck.”

In January of this year, ROC assisted approximately 50 workers in filing federal litigation against the company for wage theft and discrimination.

‘Darden’s Decision’ offers the company an alternative path to profitability, highlighting how other responsible restaurateurs have offered employees livable wages and benefits, resulting in reduced turnover and liability.

Click here to learn more about the campaign for Dignity at Darden!

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