Speaking during the final segment of his weekly show, Bill Maher discussed gun culture, the recent actions of the Open Carry movement and their consequences, coining a new term in the process:
Opponents of paid sick leave, like opponents of raising the minimum wage, tend to keep their arguments data-free, sticking to vague claims of how bad it would be for small business, no evidence offered. But every now and then they decide to try to make their arguments look factual. Look being the key word. That’s the story with the latest from one of Rick Berman’s many front groups, the Employment Policies Institute, a laughably weak (PDF) “pilot study of businesses’ responses” to Connecticut’s paid sick leave law that completely ignores the actual facts of what’s happened in Connecticut’s economy since the law was passed.
The Berman EPI, which just happens to share its initials with the Economic Policy Institute, a reputable and widely cited progressive think tank, would like the takeaway from its pilot study to be that, because of Connecticut’s paid sick leave law, businesses are raising prices, laying off workers, and curtailing hiring or expansion in the state. The real takeaway, of course, is that even when they try to make themselves look like they care about facts, anti-worker astroturf organizations can’t do any better than a weak truthiness. Take the methodology here. Evil-EPI sent a survey to “roughly 800” of the businesses “most likely to be impacted by the law.” The response rate was below 20 percent, so basically, we’re talking about the most pissed off fraction of the small fraction of business owners identified as probably caring about this law. And, predictably, they see dire, dire consequences for paid sick leave.
The reality? Employment in the two industry sectors most likely to be affected by the sick leave law rose in Connecticut in 2012. Just as, following the passage of a paid sick leave law in San Francisco (PDF), that city did better than the surrounding counties on several employment measures.
Another reality is this: In March, 2011, the owner of the U.S.S. Chowder Pot restaurants testified before the state legislature that if paid sick leave became law, “I would be forced to close both restaurants resulting in a loss of approximately 240 full time and part time jobs.” Today, both restaurants are hiring. Similarly, one of the partners in The Hartford Restaurant Group, hitting the small business angle hard despite his company owning eight restaurants, said paid sick leave was “unreasonable and not practical, and most likely would stunt any growth opportunities.” You know, growth like opening another restaurant and buying a large building for storage and corporate offices, which The Hartford Restaurant Group has done.
These restaurants (U.S.S. Chowder Pot and Hartford Restaurant Group) should be sued into oblivion for requiring SICK employees to HANDLE FOOD and INFECT CUSTOMERS.
As they say, read it all.
Darden Restaurants Inc., the parent company of popular casual dining establishments such as Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and LongHorn Steakhouse, is no longer offering full-time work schedules to employees at “a select number” of restaurants in four markets across the country.
Though details were scant, the company did say there were no immediate plans to expand the “test,” which is aimed at “help[ing] us address the cost implications health care reform will have on our business.”
Starting January 2014, when most major provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect, companies with over 50 employees will be required to provide health insurance to employees working over 30 hours a week. Companies that flout the law will be fined $3,000 per uncovered employee.
“I think a lot of those employers, especially restaurants, are just going to ensure nobody gets scheduled more than 30 hours a week,” Matthew Snook of the human-resources consulting company Mercer told the Orlando Sentinel.
Jumping the gun, Darden said in its statement that employees at restaurants where the pilot program was put in place will be limited to 28 hours a week.
Darden’s pushing this policy, which will mean that an even smaller percentage of its workforce will be eligible for health insurance. The company operates Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V’s.
Currently nearly 75% of its 180,000 employees are not eligible for health care benefits because they’re scheduled as part timers. This change would increase those figures significantly. It would put the burden on those workers to find alternative health insurance options (if they’re even able to do).
Darden has cut labor costs aggressively to inflate the bottom line - labor costs as a percentage of sales has dropped from 33.1% to 30.8% in the most recent quarter. At the same time, its net profits in the most recent period was $110 million (though in 4Q 2011, the profits dropped to $54 million). The market cap is currently over $7 billion and a p/e of 15.06. Shareholders might enjoy the profits, but the workers are getting shafted by the focus on profits exclusively - workers are more likely to become dissatisfied and leave the company with fewer engaged workers who may look to the company for a career and that undermines the customer experience. In the end, it could result in fewer people eating at these restaurants and result in lower profits.
Despite this, Fortune ranks Darden 99 out of 100 on its top 100 companies to work for as of 2011. However, ROC found that Capital Grille, Longhorn, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster have repeatedly been accused of engaging in discrimination and wage theft (forcing shared tips), and is poorly rated as a place to work for.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got his wish: The city’s board of health voted to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces Thursday.
Under the ban, restaurants, food carts, cafeterias, and concession stands, such as those in movie theaters, won’t be allowed to sell sodas larger than 16 ounces in the city.
[Report: Coke, Pepsi Outreach Plans Are Harming Public Health]
Fans of super-sized drinks will have a while to adjust to the ban and stock up: it won’t take effect until March 12, 2013; the city will start fining businesses that violate the ban in June.
In a statement last week supporting the ban, Bloomberg took a stand against super-sized sodas.
“As the size of sugary drinks has grown, so have our waistlines,” he said. “Our proposal for reasonable portion sizes won’t prevent anyone from buying or drinking as much soda as they want, but it will help people keep from inadvertently taking in junk calories simply because the small drink they ordered was actually very large.”
[Opinion: Michael Bloomberg’s Soda Ban Won’t Solve the Obesity Problem]
In a tweet after the board approved the ban, Bloomberg said “6 months from today, our city will be an even healthier place.”
California will ban foie gras sales starting Sunday. Meanwhile, goose-liver lovers still have time to enjoy foie gras jelly doughnuts at Umamicatessen in Los Angeles.
Chefs there and around the state are counting down their foie gras days by putting it anywhere they can. Some plan foie gras finale feasts on Saturday night. Others offer foie gras in cotton candy, cheesecake, waffles and toffee.
“It’s a very difficult thing to say goodbye to,” says Michael Cimarusti, co-owner and chef at Providence, a celebrated Los Angeles restaurant. He plans to leave a gap on his menu in memory of the dearly departed, with the notation: “formerly a foie gras dish.”
The foie frenzy harks back to 2004, when California lawmakers bowed to animal-rights groups and passed a ban on foie gras sales, giving restaurants more than seven years to get over it.
Todd Putman stepped up to a podium Thursday ready to break with his past.
Stretched before him was a ballroom full of public health officials and community activists, gathered in Washington for a “National Soda Summit” on how to loosen the soda industry’s grip on the American appetite.
The conference marked the latest salvo in a barrage of recent attacks on makers of unhealthy food and beverages, especially sodas.
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) has announced plans to ban super-size sodas from his city’s restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and bodegas. Disney will no longer run junk-food ads with its children’s programming. First lady Michelle Obama’s book about the White House vegetable garden, released Tuesday, notes that the only drinks offered during family meals at home are milk and water.
The logic behind these moves has been repeated so often it is practically a mantra: The nation is in the throes of an obesity crisis and sodas account for an outsize share of the sugar pouring into American bellies.
Putman, 51, shares that view. But he is also driven by another motive: From 1997 to mid-2000, he was a top marketing executive at Coca-Cola.
“It took me 10 years to figure out that I have a large karmic debt to pay for the number of Cokes I sold across this country,” he said.
On Thursday, he came to settle it.
Gayot, an off-brand dining guide, made what could loosely be called news last week when it released its “best steakhouse” list. You’d think that a list of ten almost indistinguishable restaurants in the U.S. made by anonymous reviewers using arbitrary standards for a company nobody has ever heard of would encounter at least some skepticism. But no! It was broadcast uncritically by news media, old and new. I found the whole thing hilarious. The country may fall in ruin and recession, beef prices may climb so high that people will start to miss “pink slime,” and Americans may be dropping in the streets from diabetes, heart disease and gout. But the steakhouse will always make money.
And yet, as a committed carnivore, I feel strongly that a steakhouse is the last place anybody who really loves beef should go.
I don’t write this as a food pundit. I say it as a glutton and as an American. Steakhouses are not really restaurants, in the strictest sense: they are closer in spirit to strip clubs or spas, places to which people repair for rites of costly self-indulgence, Dionysian revels in which stressed businessmen or harried wives vent their hypertension. I don’t go to many spas, but the strip club analogy seems pretty accurate to me. Both the steakhouse and the strip club seem to offer the most primal of pleasures, but the actual exchange is cynical, unsatisfying, and almost prohibitively expensive. And yet we keep going back.
In the case of steakhouses, the appeal is obvious. There are the enormous slabs of blackened prime beef, served ritualistically on sizzle platters or cutting boards. There are the invariable satellite dishes: crusty hash browns, creamy spinach, gargantuan onion rings. (These days there is often a plate of thick bacon slices that precedes it too, a kind of advance guard of overpriced crappy meat.) The meal is generally an all-male affair, a frantic bonding event where the boys all toast their temporary liberation from the tyranny of women and kids, often with heavy rocks glasses filled with marked-up scotch or bourbon. At the end, there are comically oversized pieces of chocolate cake and a four- or five-figure bill to split up - or put on the company card, if the party is lucky enough to have one. (The odds are 99 to 1.)
What are you really getting for your money? Not great steak. There is never enough prime beef to go around; much of what gets served in steakhouses is actually USDA “high Choice,” which has less marbling than USDA Prime. If you’re not in New York City or the military, your chances of seeing actual prime are low indeed. But you’ll still pay a premium for whatever it is you’re getting. Thanks to rising corn prices, a major drought you may or may not have heard about, and the rising demand for U.S. beef overseas, there is less beef for sale here and so it costs a lot more. The recent outcry against pink slime, though more than deserved, won’t help either: that processed waste helped subsidize the beef industry. It was part of the invisible cost of your steak, like gout and global warming.
…the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) has released a Diners’ Guide that rates the 150 highest-grossing restaurants in the country on criteria like living wages, paid sick leave, and opportunity for career advancement.
…ROC collaborated with students from Tulane University and University of California, Los Angeles to investigate the labor practices of the country’s biggest restaurants. The result is a guide that says which restaurants are guilty of common industry behaviors like paying tipped workers less than $5 an hour and non-tipped workers less than $9 (the federal minimum wages for each are $2.13 and $7.25, respectively); not offering paid sick days; and denying employees a chance to be promoted.
Jayaraman holds the now ex-presidential candidate Herman Cain to blame for what she calls the “abysmal” $2.13 minimum wage. As a lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association, in 1996, Cain struck a deal with Congress agreeing that his group wouldn’t block a rising minimum wage as long as the wage floor for tipped workers stayed frozen at its 1991 level.
“What that essentially means is the industry and Congress are saying, ‘We expect you consumers to pay the wages of these workers [through tips],’” Jayaraman says. “It’s not fair to workers and it’s not fair to consumers. The industry is thriving, but tipping is not; people are not tipping as much as they used to because people are struggling.”
The median wage for the more than 10 million restaurant workers in the U.S. is $8.90 per hour. Jayaraman said only 20 percent of industry jobs pay a living wage, and restaurant workers often live in poverty or are homeless.
“Workers know this [abuse] is going on. They’re sick of it. But they’re also incredibly afraid,” Jayaraman said. “This is a bad economy, and employers have beat it into their heads that they should be grateful for their jobs. This is why we do these things, to help people stand up.”
Perhaps you caught the story in the Post over the weekend about restaurant lawsuits and the way pretty much all the ones you’ve heard about anytime recently have been prosecuted by one lawyer, the so-called “scourge of restaurateurs” Maimon Kirschenbaum. In the past few years, Kirschenbaum has pursued more than 100 wage-violation cases against New York restaurants, including Alto, Convivio, and Babbo, the latter of which prompted co-owner Joe Bastianich to say this to the Post: “Money-hungry lawyers, through frivolous lawsuits, are shaking down the very foundation of Manhattan’s restaurant industry.” Well, now Kirschenbaum has words for Bastianich, in the form of an open letter to the “disgruntled restaurant owners that have been ‘victimized’” by his suits.
In the letter, passed along to Grub Street, Kirschenbaum writes, “There was one glaring omission from your quotes in the NY Post’s ‘expose’ on me this past Sunday: The part where you claim that you did not violate the law by taking money from the waiters’ tips to subsidize other expenses in your restaurant.” He continues: “There can be little doubt that the wait staff plays an integral role in making NYC what Mr. Bastianich called ‘the greatest restaurant city in the world.’ That being the case, SHAME ON YOU FOR ABUSING THESE UNDERPRIVILEGED EMPLOYEES.”
And of course, that’s not all. Here’s the full text:
Dear Disgruntled Restaurant Owners That Have Been ‘Victimized’ By Me and My Fellow Law Firms:
There was one glaring omission from your quotes in the NY Post’s ‘expose’ on me this past Sunday: The part where you claim that you did not violate the law by taking money from the waiters’ tips to subsidize other expenses in your restaurant. Given that you decided to resolve this matter in a tabloid, instead of in a courtroom where reality governs, your decision to focus on all matters other than the real issues at hand is no surprise. It was much easier for you to simply attack me as a ‘money-grubber’ and have Joe Bastianich whine to the general public that he will not be opening another multi-million dollar operation in NYC this year. Actually, that’s probably the best you can do given what you have done to bring yourselves to this point.
The waiters and foodservice employees that I represent are some of the hardest working honorable people in NYC. There is hardly a soul in this beautiful city that is not routinely served by a NYC foodservice worker. While we all have our good and bad experiences at restaurants, there can be little doubt that the wait staff plays an integral role in making NYC what Mr. Bastianich called ‘the greatest restaurant city in the world.’ That being the case, SHAME ON YOU FOR ABUSING THESE UNDERPRIVILEGED EMPLOYEES.
I have been practicing law for roughly six years. I can say with pride that in my wildest dreams as a law student, I would never have foreseen that G-d would give me the good fortune of being able to practice in an area as honorable as protecting the rights of underprivileged waiters. Over this period of time, I have represented: (a) waiters that were forced to hand $20 bills to their floor managers each night out of fear of being assigned the following night to a section of the restaurant where ‘low tipping tourists’ were seated; (b) wait staff that worked significant overtime hours each week, but had their time cards systematically altered so that they would not be paid for overtime; (c) wait staff that are forced to pay back (!) their employers back for ‘walk-outs,’ i.e., customers that walk-out without paying their bill; (d) wait staff that were paid no hourly wage at all; (e) wait staff that were required to subsidize the pay of dishwashers, silver polishers and other non-wait staff, because the restaurants were too cheap to pay these individuals directly, and (f) wait staff at banquet events for which the banquet halls charge 20% gratuities, but distribute none or a fraction of the gratuities to the wait staff. More or less, almost all of the lawsuits I have brought over the years revolve around one or several of these violations.
Please do not try and convince the public that the above-mentioned violations are a necessary component of your business or that we are exploiting some ‘loophole’ in the law. And when you get called out for your bad behavior by me or one of the other wonderful law firms that work in my field, yes, you will have to pay back the wait staff back what you took from them. It takes a strong degree of ‘chutzpah’ to suggest that honorable folks in Albany will change the laws to make it easier for you to get away with your bad behavior. In fact, those in the know, including the lawyers that defend my lawsuits, are well-aware of the fact that the legislature and the courts have been increasing the protections of these workers as result of the rampant violations and exploitations in NYC.
As of today, I am unaware of a single restaurant that went out of business because of one of my lawsuits. But, if a restaurant simply cannot make a profit without stealing money from its wait staff, I think we all agree that that restaurant should not be in business, and I will not regret putting that restaurant out of business.
With regard to the money-grubbing by lawyers and waiters: The attorneys’ fees on these cases must be approved by the Court. Also, contrary to what the NY Post would have you believe, there is no one person taking home one third of the moneys paid out by Defendants. These cases require significant expenditures and manpower, often more than one or two law-firms and many lawyers, to litigate them from beginning to end. Defendants are well aware of this—they too tend to staff these cases with many lawyers. Plus, we actually have to pay our employees in full. With regard to waiters, Joe Bastianich claims that waiters earn significant sums of money each year ($70-100,000). My experience has been that most waiters, even at the super high-end restaurants and banquet halls, make a lot less than that. More importantly, at least they can say that every penny of that money is rightfully theirs. If Mr. Bastianich cares to share with the general public his annual income, the public can run a comparison and decide for themselves who is getting the short end of the broomstick.
In closing, this world would be a better place if there was no legitimate need for the lawsuits brought by me and my buddies. The choice is yours. Keep the employment laws, and you will have satisfied wait staff and no legal expenses associated with defending these lawsuits. Until then, it will take a lot more to get rid of us than besmirching us in a tabloid.
Annam Brahma is one of about 20 soy-and-veggie joints operated by Chinmoy’s followers, and it is, undoubtedly, strange. But its strangeness is surprisingly common. By the time I dined with Chinmoy, I’d spent months eating at restaurants run by fringe religious movements, often referred to as “cults,” and trying to figure out why so many sects have opened shrines to a single deity: health food.
A 15-minute walk from my house in D.C. is Soul Vegetarian Cafe and Exodus Carryout, part of a mini-chain stretching from Tel Aviv to Atlanta. African-American polygamists who consider themselves the real Jews served me vegan mac-and-cheese and a vegetable croquette on a thick whole-wheat bun, the Moses Burger. In upstate New York, a competing chosen people, the hippie-ish “Jesus People” known as the Twelve Tribes, sold me a whole-grain waffle drowned in blueberry sauce and whipped cream. (They also have restaurants in Massachusetts, Colorado, Tennessee, and other states.) Two blocks from Manhattan’s Penn Station, I ate vegan dumplings and nutty seaweed salad while watching Supreme Master TV, the 24-hour satellite network of Supreme Master Ching Hai, proprietress of, at latest count, 201 Loving Hut restaurants in 29 countries. And twice—while on vacation in Rome and later in Brooklyn—I tried to dine with Hare Krishnas. If you want to sample Lord Krishna’s vegan meatballs, call in advance: Odd hours seem to be the norm at his hundred or so temple/cafes worldwide.
If, however, you don’t call and a saffron-robed devotee with white face paint turns you away, as happened to me, you can always order organic wheatgrass or raw cacao powder from Mr. Wisdom, a Los Angeles-based Krishna (and health-food retailer) who ships nationwide. In addition to restaurants, many fringe groups own natural-foods stores or manufacture products like Yogi Tea, invented by Happy, Healthy, Holy Organization founder Yogi Bhajan. Here’s a challenge: Name an infamous sect or “cult” that has never operated some sort of restaurant or natural-foods store. Most of them—the Church of Scientology, Aum Shinrikyo, the Branch Davidians, the Mormon Fundamentalists, even Jim Jones’ People’s Temple—have. The question is: Why?