It's flu season, but when you sit down in a restaurant, the last thing you want to think about is a waiter with a cough carrying your breadsticks or a sous-chef with the flu coating your appetizer in a fine glaze of phlegm. And yet if you've eaten at a Red Lobster or an Olive Garden, there's a good chance your food was prepared, handled, or served by a sick worker.
Darden, the massive conglomerate that owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster, doesn't offer its workers paid sick days, even though studies show that two-thirds of workers who don't get to take paid sick days show up to work ill. The danger posed by this policy is very real -- in 2011 a server at an Olive Garden in North Carolina came to work despite being diagnosed with highly-contagious Hepatitis A, leading to thousands of emergency inoculations and a class action lawsuit.
And yet Darden has refused to consider changing its policy on sick days.
With wages as low as $2.13 an hour, many workers at Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and other Darden restaurants can't afford to take time off when they get sick, and some managers even threaten to fire sick workers who stay home. And Darden can clearly afford to offer workers a better deal -- it's one of the most profitable restaurant chains in America, and it's given its CEO, Clarence Otis, Jr., a 225% raise since 2005
The restaurant industry is one of the fastest growing employers in the country, and with over 2,000 locations and prominent brands like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille, and more, Darden is the largest full-service restaurant chain in the world. As cities and states throughout the U.S. consider paid sick days legislation, a change in Darden's policies would have a ripple effect throughout the sector and prove that restaurants can give workers a fair deal.
When it comes to abusive practices at Darden-owned restaurants, the lack of sick days is just the tip of the iceberg. Workers are also subjected to low pay, frequent wage theft, racial discrimination, and lack of opportunities for promotion. Meanwhile, Darden has threatened to go to extreme lengths to avoid giving its employees health care. With health reform set to kick in and require employers to offer health insurance next year, America's largest restaurant chain is threatening to cut back hours, turning full-time employees into part-time workers who aren't eligible for benefits.
The SumOfUs.org community needs to remind Darden's bosses that their disregard for their employees' health and wellbeing is unacceptable, especially when those workers are handling the food we eat!
Claiborne, Rob, and the team at SumOfUs.org