Category Archives: Home News


“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!

[scribd id=106017366 key=key-ewj9eroc6gd5plehqpf mode=scroll]

Concrete Roadmap to Create and Improve Good Jobs, Tackle Inequality

WASHINGTON, DC – More than 20 of America’s leading organizations on work and the economy today
released a plan with 10 ways to rebuild America’s middle class
. As both Presidential candidates highlighting the issues of jobs and the economy, the new report details ten concrete proposals to strengthen the economy for the long-term by creating good jobs and addressing the economic insecurity that has spread to millions of U.S. families. The recommendations follow several recent studiesthat indicate the economy is headed toward even greater inequality as middle-class jobs become more and more scarce.


“For a lot of Americans, simply having a job no longer means you’ll be able to support a family or pay for your basic needs,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. “We have a low-wage recovery and most new jobs in the next decade are expected to follow the same path. If we are going to rebuild the middle class and restore national prosperity, we need to make today’s jobs better and tomorrow’s jobs good.”The report, “10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans: Making Work Pay in the 21st Century,” identifies the following steps to make today’s jobs better and tomorrow’s jobs good:


  1. 1. MAKE EVERY JOB A GOOD JOB. The majority of the high-growth jobs in America—retail sales, home health and personal aides and food prep workers—pay very low wages and provide little chance of promotion. A Department of Labor proposal – just one of the fixes for this problem — would expand protections to the nation’s 2.5 million home care workers, who work in one of the fastest-growing job categories but are excluded from minimum wage and overtime laws.
  2. 2. FIX THE MINIMUM WAGE. The Fair Minimum Wage Act would restore the lost value of the minimum wage, index it to inflation and raise the tipped-worker wage, frozen at $2.13 since 1991 – increasing take home pay for 28 million hardworking Americans and boosting consumer spending and job creation.
  3. 3. SAVE GOOD PUBLIC AND PRIVATE JOBS. Federal, state and local governments have shrunk their workforces by 580,000 since the recession ended in 2009. And the private sector has shipped 1.2 million jobs overseas since 2008. Federal funds should be provided to state and local governments to hire back teachers, firefighters and other public employees. And the government should end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.
  4. 4. ENSURE HEALTH AND RETIREMENT SECURITY. Strengthen the partnership between employers, workers and the public by implementing the Affordable Care Act, protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and establishing new retirement accounts for those workers who rely now just on Social Security.
  5. 5. UPHOLD THE FREEDOM TO JOIN A UNION. Outdated laws and corporate-driven policies have severely weakened the ability of workers to freely join together and collectively bargain. These trends have driven down wages and benefits. Fix the National Labor Relations Act to create a fair process for workers to choose union representation and restore the freedom to bargain collectively.
  6. 6. MAKE THE MODERN WORKPLACE PRO-FAMILY.  The rules of the workplace haven’t kept pace with the changing economy. Earned sick days and affordable family leave are indispensable to the health of today’s workforce, our communities and economy. The Healthy Families Act would give 90% of private sector workers (in businesses of 15 or more) the ability to earn up to seven paid sick days each year to deal with personal or family illness or seek medical care.
  7. 7. STOP WAGE THEFT. Strengthen and enforce the laws against wage theft. By paying workers less than the minimum wage, not paying for overtime and sometimes not paying workers at all, unscrupulous employers are cheating workers and dragging down wages for the entire low-wage workforce.
  8. 8. REQUIRE THAT YOUR BOSS BE YOUR EMPLOYER. More and more companies are hiring permanent temp workers, paying temps and part-timers at a lower rate and giving fewer or no benefits, and misclassifying employees as independent contractors. The Department of Labor and IRS should vigorously enforce the laws meant to stop employers from mistreating actual employees.
  9. 9. GIVE UNEMPLOYED JOB-SEEKERS A REAL, FRESH START. Reauthorize federal unemployment insurance for 2013 and pass the Fair Employment Opportunity Act to end job market practices that discriminate against unemployed job seekers.
  10. 10. TOUGHEN LAWS PROTECTING WORKER SAFETY AND HEALTH.  Millions of workers are injured or made sick on the job every year, and thousands die as a result. Enacting the Protect American Workers Act, for example, would modernize the Occupational Safety and Health Act to improve work safety and enforcement.


“In these tough economic times, common sense policies like paid sick days are crucial for working families struggling to stay afloat and take care of their loved ones,” said Ellen Bravo, Executive Director of Family Values @ Work, a national consortium of state and local coalitions working for paid sick days and paid family leave policies.  “The middle class is the engine of our economy. We can’t get that engine going again if workers lose jobs and income for being a good parent or following doctor’s orders.”

The groups issuing the report are 9to5, AFL-CIO, American Rights at Work, Blue-Green Alliance, Campaign for America’s Future, Caring Across Generations, Center for Community Change, Change To Win, Families Values @ Work, Interfaith Workers Justice, Jobs with Justice, Los Angeles Alliance for the New Economy, National Day Labor Organizing Network, National Partnership for Women & Families, National Employment Law Project, Partnership for Working Families, Progressive States Network, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, SEIU, USAction, Wider Opportunities for Women and Working America.


Backed Into CornerAugust 8 – Today, a new research report, “Backed into the Corner,” was released at a press conference at a Miami Beach Restaurant, TAPTAP, by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami (ROC-Miami) and the Miami-Dade Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces – a coalition of community, labor and faith-based advocates that support legislation that would mandate earned paid sick days for all Miami-Dade workers.

Over the past three decades as the restaurant industry has become the third largest private sector in the Miami-Dade region, employing 72,700 workers, a new research report shows how the lack of earned paid sick days combined with low wages forces Miami-Dade restaurant workers into a corner — they must choose between losing pay or going to work sick — most have no choice, they must work to survive.

“As industry growth in Miami-Dade County show no signs of letting up, it is all the more important that restaurants seek to protect the health of their workers and Miami-Dade residents, rather than endangering public health by placing workers in a position where they feel compelled to work sick to make ends meet.” said Jean Souffrant, Policy Coordinator for ROC-Miami.

Nearly 90% of restaurant workers nationwide have no access to earned paid sick days, and 64% have worked while sick, according to extensive surveying of thousands of restaurant workers by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, as well as the National Institute of Health’s National Health Interviews Survey.

Miami-Dade County closely mirrors national conditions. The report shows how in the nation’s largest industries, as wages decrease, so does access to earned paid sick days. The workers who need relief the most, have it the least. The Median wage for Miami-Dade restaurant workers making less than $10.00 an hour, and only 11.4 % have access to earned paid sick days, compared to other service and retail workers that make much higher wages and have much greater access to earned paid sick days.

The report also reveals the dangerous health hazards and risk of spreading illness that result when restaurant workers work while they are sick – creating consequences for themselves, their coworkers, the restaurant, and consumers alike.

Erica Sommer, a bartender in Miami, who worked three days with typhoid fever and a Backed - Typhoidfever of 103.7, knows what it is like to be really sick at work, but she was pressured to stay at work and endanger herself and others she said, “No one should have to work sick, particularly restaurant workers serving the public. It feels terrible and puts everyone in danger.”

Miami-Dade County Commission Barbara Jordan (District1) also spoke at the press conference on the need to pass County-wide earned paid sick day legislation saying, “When people are ill, they should remain home,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan, an advocate for workplace fairness. “When I look at the food services industry, I am especially troubled by the thought of employees who deal with meat, fruits and vegetables handling these foods while they are ill. This could result in the spread of viruses and other illnesses throughout Miami-Dade County.”

Key findings in the report include…

  • - Nine out of ten Miami restaurant workers have no access to earned paid sick days, and 47.6 % report having worked while sick. Three quarters of those that worked sick did so because they could not afford to take the day off.
  • - 74% of workers that worked sick cited they could not afford to take the day off without pay.
  • - One in five workers that worked while sick cited fear of retribution from their employers as a reason for not staying home. Over 20% of all workers surveyed were uncomfortable asking for time off when sick and another 15% did not think they could do so.
  • Many workers also struggled without a system for workers to find a replacement. One in ten workers that worked sick could not find a replacement and did not want to overburden their coworkers.

 Serving While Sick: Effect on Workers and Consumers.

  • - Among the 47.6% of workers surveyed that worked sick, 65.5% said their work productivity was negatively affected and two-fifths had longer illnesses as a consequence of working, increasing the negative consequences for themselves and their family.
  • - Over 40% of workers that worked sick reported coughing or sneezing while handling food. And over 10% reported infecting their co-workers.

Industry in Need of Reform for Diners and Workers Alike.

  • - More than one in ten workers reported pressure to cut corners in a way that could potentially harm customers, and a full 5% reported serving potentially contaminated food – expired, dirty or leftover food to diners.

Miami-Dade Restaurant Workers Need Access to Health Insurance.

  • - An overwhelming majority of Miami’s restaurant workers that were surveyed, 63.6%, said they had no access to health insurance.
  • - Only 8.8% of workers worked for employers that provided full or partial health insurance.
  • - Among workers surveyed with no health insurance, nearly half, 46.1% reported never having seen a doctor.
  • - Another 34% have gone to free or discount clinics, and another 16% depended on the emergency room for their healthcare needs.
  • - And overall, 24% of all workers surveyed visited an emergency room to obtain health coverage in the past year, and nearly one half were unable to pay adding to the strain to an already overstrained healthcare system.

“Scriptures recognize the totality of our community, the need for us to care for the well-being of our brothers and sisters. The notion of paid sick days exemplifies this outlook as paid sick days is a public health issue that affects all of us,” said Jeanette Smith, Executive Director, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice.

“We applaud ROC-Miami for releasing this timely and powerful report. It is unconscionable to fathom that in the 8th largest county in the country, workers making below the minimum wage have to go to work sick just to make ends meet because they have no earned paid sick days. ROC-Miami along with all of our coalition partners here today will fight to get legislation passed this year that mandates earned paid sick days to allow workers to stay home and take care of their own illness or that of a family member. In the coming months, we will educate, organize, and mobilize the public to take action to change the quality of life for all workers in Miami-Dade County who have no earned paid sick days” said Fred Frost, Director of Governmental Affairs, South Florida Jobs with Justice.

In addition to County-wide legislation that mandates earned paid sick days and ensuring that tipped workers be compensated at a rate commensurate with their total average daily wage, the report’s recommendations include support for legislation that ensures that the healthcare needs of Miami-Dade restaurant workers are met; support education for employers so they may better  understand how restaurant polices that push employees to work sick hurt the health of their workers and risk the success of their business; and support the collective action of restaurant workers to improve working conditions for all workers in the industry, including better wages  and access to proper  healthcare as well as other benefits.