I always thought the most disappointing thing about the Olive Garden is its eggplant parmesan, but I stand corrected. Darden Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of restaurants like the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and LongHorn Steakhouse has decided to conduct a trial, now that they’ve answered their original postulate, “How much delicious bread must we provide to distract people from the poor quality of our food?” Conclusion, “Lots.”
President Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandates that all companies with over 50 employees provide health insurance for full-time employees or be fined $3,000 per uninsured worker. Darden’s solution is to deny all employees full-time hours in four test markets. Surely employees in the corporate offices are safe; they are already insured. This cutting of employee hours only affects the restaurant workers who serve the food: waiters, bartenders, busboys (where you can find them). Darden already changed the way they pay their employees; bartenders lost their hourly wage and now split tips with servers, allowing Darden to pay less to both positions.
This is the main issue with Obamacare. These large corporations don’t want to decrease their profit margins, which are up as a result of previous labor cost reductions. The Affordable Care Act asks them to be fiscally responsible for their minions, which they do not want to do. I’m not saying Darden’s CEO, Clarence Otis Jr. doesn’t give a shit about the grad student serving unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks to make ends meet or the mom working Lobsterfest! to support her kids. I have no idea what his personal feelings are regarding his employees. Mr. Otis made $7.65 million in 2010, only slightly higher than the annual income of a server who shares tips twenty-nine and a half hours a week at a national chain restaurant.
We view some jobs as worthy of having benefits and compensation and some jobs as work that other people do. Cute teenagers and college students serve food to people, not adults who need stability. People who freelance and clean houses and bring us our Texas T’onion (sorry, Longhorn’s specialties are not as well-known) don’t deserve to have basic benefits and job security. They are not valued the same way as office workers. This is a problem.
I waited tables for over five years after college while pursuing my big break here in New York*. Waiting tables is a tough job: you have to know the food, walk and stand for hours, work in a team, problem solve, be nice to customers no matter how they treat you. Moreover, it’s not less valuable to our society than an office manager or a dental hygienist or a CEO, for that matter. Our President believes that all Americans deserve to be protected from getting sick or going bankrupt from illness. It’s telling that our corporations don’t believe the same thing.
*Cries into office computer and fetches boss his lunch.