E. Winter Tashlin

The Restaurant Industry Puts Your Health In Danger For Dollars

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | April 09, 2013 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: paid sick time, restaurants

My boyfriend is sick, and I am angry.

Ordinarily, one of my partners being ill would be a downer, but not really a source of rage. People after all, get sick. What's got me all worked up is that my boyfriend doesn't get any paid sick-time from his job. This of course, means that he has to choose between keeping his bills paid and taking care of his health.

However, I'm a American in 2013, so this isn't exactly a surprise either. It's enough to frustrate me and make me worried for my boyfriend, but not enough to send me into a rage.

What makes me see red is that my boyfriend is an employee of Darden Restaurants, Inc. There's a good chance you've never heard of Darden, I know I hadn't until recently. dollars_on_plate.jpgBut if you've eaten at:

  • Red Lobster
  • Olive Garden
  • LongHorn Steakhouse
  • Bahama Breeze
  • Seasons 52
  • The Capital Grille
  • Eddie V's
  • Yard House

then you've eaten Darden's food and given them your money. And if one of their employees was sick and couldn't afford to go several days without pay, then Darden has willfully exposed you to more than just mediocre cuisine. The CDC says that twenty percent of food borne illness can be traced back to an ill food-service employee.

The restaurant industry is strongly opposed to paid sick time, preferring instead to rely upon the "flexible scheduling" that's common in the industry. The idea is that a sick employee simply isn't scheduled until they are better, but doesn't loose too much money, since they can be scheduled heavily as soon as they return.

The problem is that "flexible scheduling" puts the burden on a restaurant's management to make a decision that will impact guests' health, based on their assessment of how ill an employee is, likely weighed against how badly they need bodies in the restaurant. There is no protection for an employee or the customers they serve for that matter, if management says "sorry, we really need you to come in anyway."

Many people's response to this issue is to say "if people don't like how food-service works they should get a different job," or to regale me with their own tales of the crappy restaurant jobs they've held.

So, to be clear, while this whole situation has me angry, I'm not too pissed on behalf of my boyfriend. He has other options available to him, but works in the Darden restaurant because he loves the food business and hopes some day to start his own restaurant. More than that, he really loves the place and people he works with.

No, my rage is at the fact that I, and millions of other people, some of whom may very well be immunocompromised, are having our health put in unnecessary jeopardy in the name of a bit more profit. The fact that the policy (or lack thereof) puts an unfair burden on restaurant employees is just icing on my anger-cake.

I know that on the surface this doesn't look like an issue which directly impacts LGBT people. The gods know we've already got a number of fights on our hands, both within and beyond our community. But the LGBT community does have a high percentage of people who are immunocompromised, not to mention a long and one might even say, stereotypical relationship with the food-service industry.

While an awareness of how oppressive corporate policies hurt employees is important, we need to seriously consider how today's profit above all else model can put us as consumers in jeopardy. Working from that perspective may be the only way to affect any change at all.

(Dollars On A Plate by Flickr user Tax Credits)

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