In 2013, a few state and local governments passed important pro-worker bills. Two states voted to raise the minimum wage, while Portland, Oregon and New York City passed laws that require employers to provide earned paid sick leave. While American workers may applaud these actions, they are likely not aware that more states considered passing such bills, but were effectively blocked by the efforts of the food industry’s corporate lobbyist, the National Restaurant Association (NRA).
In fact, the NRA boasted to members that, despite public opinion polls showing 80% of citizens supported a minimum wage increase, its lobbyists blocked increases from passing in 27 states this year. Furthermore, the NRA managed to stop 12 states from passing sick leave laws similar to Portland’s successful measure. Meanwhile, Connecticut and New York raised the general minimum wage, but canceled provisions to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers.
These actions by the NRA come at a time when food industry workers are speaking out about their rights to earn a living wage. Fast food workers are walking out nationwide to fight for higher wages and more benefits. The NRA told lawmakers that the food industry could not afford to pay employees higher wages in order to block the passage of pro-employee laws. However, almost every national chain has experienced a marked increase in profits and revenue over the past decade in spite of the recession. In fact, chain restaurant companies reported increases as follows:
-McDonald’s: 7.8% revenue increase
-Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC): 8.7% revenue increase
-Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster, Olive Garden): 9.1% revenue increase
In addition to past revenue growth, the NRA published on its website predictions that restaurant sales would continue to rise to a record high of $660.5 billion in 2013.
Food industry workers are increasingly speaking out against low wages, in a movement recently fueled by McDonald’s suggested personal budget published this summer. The budget, intended for an employee holding two minimum wage jobs, left only $100 per month for “other” expenses, which may include groceries, clothing, toiletries, or any other regular daily expenses. Though McDonald’s likely believed the budget to be an actual tool for employees, it actually worked more to demonstrate how difficult life can be for the one in ten Americans who try to survive on food industry wages.
Not every company in the food industry treats its employees unfairly. Employee advocate Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) recently published a guide to ethical eating, listing restaurant nationwide and scoring them based on the quality of working conditions. ROC does not want to spark restaurant boycotts, but simply encourages supporting restaurants who respect their employees. If you work in the food industry and believe you have been treated unfairly, call the employment lawyers at HKM today to schedule a consultation.