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Workers’ group releases shockingly short list of ethical restaurants

A group dedicated to the rights of food service workers called Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) has released an annual list of national restaurants and how they treat employees.  A surprising number of U.S. restaurant chains fail to even meet the minimum requirements listed in the guide to be considered fair places to work or ethical places to eat.

The ROC National Diners’ Guide 2012 notes whether restaurants belong to ROC’s “High Road” Restaurant Roundtable program, which brings workers together “to promote the high road to profitability” in the restaurant industry, and then scores restaurants in four categories, the minimum wage for tipped workers, the minimum wage for non-tipped workers, whether or not workers get paid sick days and whether the company offers opportunities for advancement.

Darden restaurant group, which owns the chains Red Lobster, Capital Grille, Longhorn Steakhouse and Olive Garden, comes in for special scorn from ROC.  Groups of Darden employees have sought ROC’s aid in cases involving discrimination and “wage theft,” a system by which restaurants deny pay to employees through practices like working off the clock, including asking servers and other employees to do “side work” like rolling silverware, filling salt and pepper shakers and other custodial duties without clocking in, or assigning tipped employees non-tipped tasks without changing their pay rate for those hours.

ROC has set up a special website called Dignity at Darden for workers in these four restaurant chains.  ROC Communications Coordinator Meghana Reddy informed Raw Story that Darden is such a large and powerful group that in the recent dust-up over the state minimum wage in New York, restaurants as a group were represented together while the Darden group had its own separate team of lobbyists to keep food service wages low and to be certain that its restaurants were not subject to the same labor laws as other businesses.

Restaurant workers make up a huge portion of the U.S. work force. Reddy told Raw Story that with over ten million workers, “The food service industry makes up one of the largest private sector work forces, second only to retail. They’re predicting over $620 billion in revenues this year, and yet, restaurant jobs make up seven of the ten lowest paid jobs in the country.”

“People don’t understand and respect the intensity, phyiscally and emotionally, of working in a restaurant,” said Reddy, “particularly at peak hours.” And yet, few restaurants pay their employees a living wage and even fewer offer even the most minimal of benefits.

The vast majority of U.S. restaurants don’t score well at all in the Diners’ Guide with most not meeting any of the listed criteria.  Starbucks, McDonald’s, Arby’s, Hooters, Denny’s and dozens of others fail to offer their tipped employees anything more than an average of $2.13 per hour, beat the regional minimum wage or offer paid sick days, let alone any form of health insurance.

Of the many restaurants rated in the diner’s guide, a few major chains are positively rated.  These include restaurants owned by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who is part of ROC’s “High Road” roundtable program, as well as fast food chains Five Guys and In-n-Out Burger.

(image via Shutterstock)

Written by | David Ferguson

David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.

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