February 29, 2012

In the middle of the dinner rush at Capital Grille in Brickell Tuesday night, more than 50 advocates joined two current and former employees as they walked into the restaurant to read a letter in protest of what they say is living wage theft.

“We are pressured to come in sick to work, our hours are reduced drastically without any explanation, and some are even clocked out by management before they’re done working,” Haitian dishwasher Maurose Frantz said in a statement. “I’m taking a stand for my people and all Capital Grille workers who are not treated fairly.”

The show of protest, made alongside supporters from a slew of local advocay groups including Jobs With Justice, Occupy Miami, 1Miami, and the Miami Worker Center, joins the Miami Capital Grille workers with a national campaign against parent company Darden Restaurants.

Already underway in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. locations, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United’s “Dignity at Darden” campaign accuses the company and its managers of racial discrimination, hostile treatment, and wage theft.

In January, the non-profit advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit against Orlando-based Darden, alleging that the company has violated the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and state wage and hour laws.

“Miami is the fifth major city now to join the campaign, and now we have workers from the east coast to the west coast to the south who are all filing similar claims,” Meghana Reddy, ROC communications manager, told HuffPost.

ROC’s Miami Coordinator Jean Souffrant said “the industry cannot rely on poverty wages, discrimination, verbal and physical abuse, and a lack of paid sick days to fuel their expansion.”

Darden owns and operates approximately 1,900 restaurants worldwide, including Capital Grille, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Longhorn Steakhouse. ROC says the company’s sales were more than $7 billion last year, but tipped employees are paid $2.13 per hour, non-tipped employees receive $7.25 per hour, and neither receive paid sick days.

Reddy said there is also racial disparity in the wages and jobs available to employees, but the company claims protestors are barking up the wrong tree. Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers told HuffPost last week that the company 180,000 people, and roughly 30 percent of its managers are minorities and 41 percent are women, and according to the Orlando Sentinel the company’s CEO is black.

“We believe the allegations are baseless,” Jeffers said.