With 15 years in the restaurant industry, including six at Darden’s Olive Garden, Steve Gazzo, started a petition demanding that he and fellow workers have a say in the Darden’s future.
Darden is the parent company to some of today’s most recognizable full-service restaurant chains, including Olive Garden, Capital Grille, Longhorn Steakhouse and up until last month ago, Red Lobster. It is considered the largest full service restaurant chain in the world, with more than 1,500 restaurants and 150,000 employees.
Darden is a notorious opponent of worker friendly legislation, and with lobbying expenditures second only to McDonald’s, they have been incredibly successful. Among the employee-friendly policies on its hit list are increases to the minimum wage especially the shamefully low tipped minimum wage, paid sick days (it most recently killed paid sick days in California and Florida), predictable schedules and full-time hours.
The company is undergoing major changes, largely due to pressure from “activist” hedge funds.
On July 28th, Darden announced it successfully sold Red Lobster to a private equity group. On the same day, the company announced that Clarence Otis, their CEO, would officially step down by the end of this year.
The pressure from activist hedge funds continues, as Starboard Value is angling to replace the entire Darden Board with its own candidates and launch a franchising strategy at Darden.
The activist investor strategy being pushed on Darden leadership follows the same asset-stripping playbook that has sunk other vulnerable restaurant chains.
There’s plenty up in the air for Darden’s future, but as Steve said, “these restaurants are not just assets to be sold off, but are how 130,000 workers feed and care for their families.” It’s clear that a vital voice is missing from the process — the voices of front-line employees. They already have some important questions:
- Why can the company afford a $500 million pay off to investors but insists on paying the minimum wages? (At least 20% of Darden’s workforce makes the federal subminimum wage of $2.13 an hour).
- Why hasn’t Darden’s corporate leadership explained this crisis to workers and asked for their input on the company’s new direction?
- What does the hedge fund fight mean for Darden’s workers and the communities they serve?