Get Ready to Be Forked

(Image: ROC United)

(Image: ROC United)

Saru Jayaraman, co-director of worker advocacy organization Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), is the author the new book, Forked: A New Standard for American Dining. The book shreds the notion that the only path to profitability in this fast-growing industry is the low road of rock-bottom wages and benefits.

For every segment of the industry, from fine dining and fast food to family-style and diners, Jayaraman profiles examples of low- and high-road restaurants, illustrating how improving worker welfare can be good for business.

Our research here at the Institute for Policy Studies has over recent years helped expose the extreme pay disparities in the restaurant industry. Top industry executives have been leading the charge against wage increases for their workers while at the same time pocketing fat paychecks for themselves.

We analyzed, for instance, the CEO pay packages of corporate members of the National Restaurant Association, a leading opponent of raising the federal minimum wage, particularly the subminimum for tipped workers, a rate that has been frozen at $2.13 per hour since 1991.

Our key finding: Restaurant industry CEOs aren’t just making outrageous sums. They’re actually getting taxpayers to subsidize their pay. Over a two-year period, the CEOs of the 20 largest corporate members of the National Restaurant Association pocketed more than $662 million in fully deductible “performance pay,” a set of deductions that lowered their corporate IRS bills by an estimated $232 million.

We also exposed the golden parachutes of ousted top executives at Darden, the owner of Olive Garden and the country’s largest full-service restaurant corporation. We found that CEO Clarence Otis Jr., who was pushed out of the company for poor performance, nevertheless sailed away with compensation and retirement funds valued at $36 million. Darden has admitted that they pay a full 20 percent of their hourly workers the federal tipped minimum of only $2.13 per hour.

ROC hopes to use Forked to build a movement that can reverse the extreme inequalities in an industry that now employs 11 million Americans. To help make the book a blockbuster, they’re encouraging allies to pledge to buy copies of the book during the week of the release: February 1-6.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.