“Comrades,” said Chappell Phillips, as he grabbed the microphone, “please do not leave the conference. It’s all better from here.” Phillips, an executive at the buffet restaurant chain Golden Corral, stood at a podium in the front of a hotel ballroom in Atlanta, before some one hundred restaurant executives and managers and union avoidance lawyers mingling and sipping weak coffee. Minutes earlier, the government’s top labor watchdog had been standing at the same podium delivering the keynote speech here at the October 2022 summit of the Restaurant Law Center, the legal arm of the National Restaurant Association. Lobbying groups often invite government officials to their conferences to curry favor or gain insight into regulatory developments. But America’s chief enforcer of federal labor law at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had not stuck to the proverbial script.
The first time Yuris Reyes asked for paid sick leave, she was turned down. “My bosses told me that paid sick leave was only for the managers and not something I was entitled to,” says the Philadelphia restaurant worker. That didn’t sound right to Yuris, who is a member of El Comité de Trabajadorxs de Restaurante (the Restaurant Workers Committee), a local advocacy group. She filed an anonymous complaint about her employer with the city of Philadelphia, which has had a paid sick leave law on the books since 2015. The next time she was ill and needed a leave, Yuris showed her employers a link to the relevant city law. “I had fever-like symptoms and I called out sick. When I came back, I was paid for all my sick time, without an issue in my next check.
Washington D.C. - The National Labor Relations Board has determined that Union Kitchen violated several labor laws and engaged in union-busting tactics as workers sought to unionize earlier this year, and that management continued to do so throughout the bargaining process, after workers succeeded in formalizing their unit this summer. According to an NLRB complaint reviewed by DCist/WAMU, management at the food retailer wrongfully terminated several employees, interrogated workers about their union activity, hosted mandatory “captive audience” meetings where workers were encouraged to reject organizing efforts, and tried to offer special benefits if workers distanced themselves from the union drive.
The staff of a burrito restaurant in Georgia quit by posting a sign claiming they had worked seven days a week for a month with "barely any time off." Employees at the Barberitos restaurant on New Street in Macon, central Georgia, said they quit over "pay" and "lack of appreciation," per a photo of the sign shared on Facebook that was first reported by WGXA News. "We have worked 7 days a week for the past month and barely any time off. We are so sorry and love you all! old Barbs family, out," the sign read. A spokesperson for Barberitos, which has 50 branches across southeastern states, confirmed the sign's existence to WGXA, and said the staff's claim that they'd worked seven days straight for a month was "simply not true."
In my twenty-year career in the hospitality sector, I have never experienced such a demanding week as the one that started on 17 May. The re-opening of pubs and restaurants may have been eagerly anticipated by customers, but hospitality workers have been through hell and back. After months of rest and recuperation, chefs have been once again thrown into intolerable conditions. My work colleagues and I were put in a situation with new huge and unmanageable menus, and a new Kitchen Management System (KMS), which took the form of an automated tablet-to-screen order system and crashed frequently. The workloads were backbreaking, too, seeing several of us put in a 75-hour week. If this wasn’t bad enough, the sheer pressure of reopening saw two of our chefs leave after just two days.
Washington - U.S. restaurants and stores are rapidly raising pay in an urgent effort to attract more applicants and keep up with a flood of customers as the pandemic eases. McDonald’s, Sheetz and Chipotle are just some of the latest companies to follow Amazon, Walmart and Costco in boosting wages, in some cases to $15 an hour or higher. The pay gains are, of course, a boon to these employees. Restaurants, bars, hotels and stores remain the lowest-paying industries, and many of their workers ran the risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job over the past year while white-collar employees were able to work from home. Still, the pay increases could contribute to higher inflation if companies raise prices to cover the additional labor costs. Some businesses, however, could absorb the costs or invest over time in automation to offset higher wages.
Food service workers are putting renewed pressure on their employers for better working conditions and wages. Businesses across the country are blaming a “workforce shortage” for being understaffed or closed. But workers in the industry say poor labor practices are pushing potential employees away. “It’s stressful working for a billion-dollar company when they’re not caring for the workers,” said Ieshia Townsend, a McDonald’s employee in Chicago, Illinois. She has worked at the McDonald’s location since 2015. “Even during COVID-19, we had to literally go on strike just for masks, just for gloves, just for supplies and protection to protect the workers, which should have been set in place.” Signs have been taped to the doors, drive-thru speakers and facades of fast-food and fast-casual restaurants with descriptions of long workdays, no lunch breaks and poor pay to accommodate for the risk of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Business owners around the country are offering up a lament: “no one wants to work.” A McDonalds franchise said they had to close because no one wants to work; North Carolina congressman David Rouzer claimed that a too-generous welfare state has turned us all lazy as he circulated photos of a shuttered fast-food restaurant supposedly closed “due to NO STAFF.” Most of these complaints seem to be coming from franchised restaurants. Why? Well, it’s not complicated. Service workers didn’t decide one day to stop working — rather huge numbers of them cannot work anymore. Because they’ve died of coronavirus. A recent study from the University of California–San Francisco looks at increased morbidity rates due to COVID, stratified by profession, from the height of the pandemic last year.
As the small restaurant sector reels from the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, a report published Thursday by advocates for tipped workers and a $15 minimum wage revealed that phasing out subminimum wages for such workers—which can be as low as a little over $2 an hour—does not cause businesses to close. In fact, the report—published by the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley and One Fair Wage—found that the five states with the greatest rate of decline in open hospitality businesses during the pandemic are all states with a subminimum wage. That wage was set at $2.13 under a 1996 federal law resulting largely from lobbying by then-National Restaurant Association president Herman Cain.
Boise, Idaho - It was raining lightly June 29 when Geo Engberson, owner of the Pie Hole pizzeria, convened an emergency staff meeting. He had intended a quick conference in the parking lot behind the restaurant, known for its steady stream of weekend bar-goers. Given the weather, Engberson ferried the handful of workers into his trailer. Earlier that month, workers at the pizza joint petitioned for an hourly wage bump. Worried that Pie Hole was prepared to replace them, former employee Kiwi Palmer says, she and her coworkers refused to train new hires. This refusal triggered a conflict.
Rather than trying to form a legal union in a right-to-work state, Bo-o stated, “We are a volunteer organization at this point. We are less constrained by the law.” (ShiftChange members also stressed they do not have centralized authority so there is no waiting for approval before taking action.) By keeping the network loose, the group is also nimble. When many workers were still waiting on government assistance, the group engaged in mutual aid and tried to get financial assistance for those in need. McGarry said now that unemployment insurance has started to appear in people’s bank accounts, RVA ShiftChange is distributing money to undocumented workers. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, ShiftChange RVA members used walkouts, social media shaming, and letter-writing to address work conditions at local restaurants.
At Norwich Meadows Farm in upstate New York, Zaid Kurdieh and his wife Haifa grow varieties of vegetables coveted by New York City chefs. If this were a normal week, diners would be enjoying their produce at restaurants like Blue Hill, ABC Kitchen, and Gramercy Tavern. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, however those restaurants are closed indefinitely—creating a dire situation for them and others like them.
By Sara Jones in Seattle Eater - This past Sunday, conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute reported that 1,300 Seattle restaurant jobs were lost between January to June of this year, the largest number lost in that span since the Great Recession of 2009. It uses this "negative effect" to make the bold suggestion that Seattle's new minimum wage law is "getting off to a pretty bad start." Eater dug deeper into the data that AEI used and pulled out some other statistics you may want to consider before coming to a conclusion about the new law. For starters, while reporting the loss of 1,300 jobs from January to June, AEI fails to note that employment actually increased by 800 people from May to June, leaving the overall industry employment just 200 people short of levels when the first wage hike went into effect on April 1.