Liberty Hill supporters may have seen news about a campaign started by employees of the Capital Grille restaurants in Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York in conjunction with Restaurant Opportunity Center United (ROC United) against Darden Restaurant Group. Now the struggle has been joined by the Los Angeles chapter of ROC United and here's why.
Most people have heard of the restaurants Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and The Capital Grille but what some people might not know is that they are all owned by the same parent company Darden Restaurant Group. Worldwide the company owns about 1,900 restaurants and employees 168,000 employees, making it the world’s largest full-service restaurant group.
On January 31, Darden employees filed a claim in the U.S. District Court citing a number of egregious violations of fair labor practices. Complaints include wage theft as well as discrimination based on race, national origin and sexual orientation.
This all started after almost all of the Black servers at the Chevy Chase, M.D. Capital Grille were fired because, said management, they "didn’t meet Capital Grille standards." After ROC-United members became involved and surveyed other workers around the country, many more cases came to light. Among the allegations are that Darden's workers were not allowed to have paid sick days and were required to work off the clock and through break. Tipped workers, who were getting paid as little as $2.13 per hour, had to share their tips with non-tipped workers. Research also showed a pay gap between white workers and non-white workers. Workers of color were mostly assigned to lower-paying back-of-the house jobs.
On February 15, the Los Angeles branch of ROC United joined the campaign with an action at The Capital Grille restaurant in the Beverly Center. According to Mariana Huerta, policy coordinator for ROC-LA, 11 Los Angeles restaurant workers have joined the lawsuit against Darden. Those eleven, joined by 35 people community members and supporters, took a stand at lunch time in the lobby and bar area of L.A.'s Capital Grille. "Diners looked shocked," noted Mariana, even though, as she described the action, it was a "small, quiet rally."
Javiar Rosas, a former dishwasher for Capital Grille (pictured above), read a statement aloud in the restaurant that was addressed to senior employees, specifically the General Manager. The workers are alleging most of the same violations as the national campaign, including not enough rest breaks and discrimination on nationality, sexual orientation and race. The statement reading was following by enthusiastic chants from ROC-LA worker members, CLEAN Carwash Campaign worker members and staff, as well as representatives of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, UCLA Labor Center, 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women, Jewish Labor Committee, Bus Riders Union, UC Irvine Immigrant Rights Law Clinic, SoCal COSH, and student activists from UCLA.
The workers' goal for the Dignity at Darden campaign is for Darden to change itspractices and policies. If you would like to join or follow this campaign visit www.dignityatdarden.com.
Simone Novorr, a Liberty Hills volunteer, is a student at the University of Southern California.