Restaurant workers rally at Olive Garden for minimum wage hike

restaurant opportunities center philadelphia
Advocates with the Restaurant Opportunities Center rallied in May against Fat Salmon sushi for alleged tip theft.
Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro

Advocates with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Philadelphia will rally Wednesday afternoon at the Olive Garden in Center City, calling on elected officials and big business owners to support policies increasing the federal minimum wage.

According to the group, the restaurant industry is the country’s largest low-wage employer.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center estimates servers are three times as likely to live at or below the poverty rate as the rest of the U.S. workforce and, overall, use food stamps at double the rate of other workers.

Advocates claim companies like Olive Garden owner Darden Restaurants, Inc. – which also runs the Red Lobster and Capital Grille chains – together with Fortune 500 restaurant brand lobbyist the National Restaurant Association, “set the industry standard by aggressively advocating against wage increases.”

At the heart of the protest is the fact that Wednesday will mark the fourth year that has passed without an increase in the country’s federal minimum wage, which sits stagnant at $7.25 an hour despite a continued rise in the cost of living and growing profits enjoyed by restaurant industry titans.

The tipped minimum wage has for 22 years been frozen at $2.13 per hour, though in Pennsylvania, it’s been raised to a paltry $2.83 per hour.

Activists are attempting to garner support for legislation like the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 introduced earlier this year by Sen. Tom Harkin (D–Iowa) and U.S. Rep. George Miller (D–Calif).

The bill would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015, index the minimum wage to increase with inflation and boost the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the full minimum wage.

According to a new poll released Wednesday by Hart Research Associates, 80 percent of Americans – including 62 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Independents – support raising the full federal minimum wage and indexing it to the cost of living, as proposed in the legislation.

“Four years without a raise is three years too many,” Harkin said in a statement released Wednesday.

“While millions of workers have been without a raise, costs have continued to climb.”

He noted between 2009 and 2012, rent has risen 4 percent, food is 8 percent more expensive, child care costs have grown by 9 percent, and public transportation costs for the average worker have risen 13 percent.

“We have to make sure that working families can keep up with the economy,” Harkin said.

“Also, by increasing the minimum wage, we can give tens of millions of workers more money in their paychecks to spend at local businesses, increasing sales and boosting economic activity.”

According to an Economic Policy Institute analysis, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would boost pay for more than 30 million low-wage workers in the country, as well as benefit more than 15 million children whose parents would see pay increases under the law.

The report also pointed out that, as 70 percent of the economy is driven by consumer demand, raising the minimum wage would actually help the very business owners who lobby against it.

Though businesses often cite lack of demand as a major reason for lack of growth, the nonpartisan center estimates raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would generate more than $32 billion in new economic activity and support the creation of 140,000 new full-time jobs as businesses expand to meet increased consumer demand.

Wednesday’s protest in Philadelphia, slated for 1:30 p.m. at 1346 Chestnut St., is part of a national day of action in 30 cities that also includes a noon press conference at the country’s Capitol, where business leaders and workers will gather with elected officials, including Sen. Bob Casey (D–Pa.), to call for immediate congressional action to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.


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