A Slanderous Attack on Tipped Workers

Earlier this year, the shareholders of Dine Brands Global (the franchisor of Applebee’s and IHOP) soundly rejected a One Fair Wage-backed proposal in support of eliminating the tipped minimum wage.

This loss was just the latest defeat for Restaurant Opportunities Center-affiliate One Fair Wage. In dozens of states and localities–not to mention the US Senate–bipartisan majorities have opposed proposals to weaken or eliminate the tipped minimum wage.

Last month, voters in deep-blue Portland, ME, rejected a similar measure by a 20-point margin. In each instance, opposition to tipped wage elimination has been led by tipped workers, 97 percent of whom support the current system. Not surprisingly, Dine Brands shareholders chose to stand with tipped workers rather than paid activists who want to eliminate tipping.

But ROC is nothing if not desperate for a win. Lacking evidence of tipped worker support, ROC has returned to its time-honored tactic: Baseless accusations of racism.

In a recent letter to Dine Brands’ board, One Fair Wage again called for the elimination of the tipped wage, ignoring the will of tipped workers and Dine Brands’ shareholders. The group supported its call with the usual mix of unsubstantiated rhetoric surrounding tipped workers and tipped work, including the offensive and false claim that the tipped wage is a “legacy” of slavery.

Right now, the restaurant industry is an engine of economic growth, providing one of the few bright spots in an otherwise-bleak jobs report. Meanwhile, Census Bureau data shows that the union goal of a $15 minimum wage has already been achieved by tipped workers, who report average earnings of more than double the federal minimum wage on average between their base wage and tips.

ROC has been unable to provide this opportunity to its own workers. After opening its own restaurant Colors aimed at setting a model for fighting inequity in the industry, employees called ROC’s management “one of the most abusive in the city.” To launch the restaurant, employees claimed ROC and founder Saru Jayaraman allegedly forced employees to work unpaid for future partial ownership in the business, only to be shafted from this promise down the road. The restaurant received 38 Department of Health violations, failed to pay workers on time, and was sued for wage theft. After initially closing when not able to sustain the business, the restaurants reopening plan was so riddled with poor leadership that the ROC executive director abruptly cut funding for the project entirely, leaving employees hanging in the balance. In 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives opened a probe into ROC for their aggressive tactics to coerce restaurants to concede to their demands and mistreatment of their own employees.

Thoughtful legislators on both sides of the political aisle have rejected ROCs claims repeatedly. Tipped workers have rejected these claims repeatedly. Economists have rejected these claims repeatedly. And voters have similarly rejected these claims at the ballot box. It’s time for more legislators and the media–not to mention One Fair Wage’s donors–to do the same.