Sunday, October 14, 2012

Iconic Austin Restaurant Pressures Employees To Vote GOP - Threats Of Cuts In Hours, Loss Of Income If GOP Loses, Obamacare Not Repealed

Image from Addicting Info
We've all read about GOP voter suppression efforts, but less attention has been paid to the efforts of private employers to coerce their workers to vote GOP. Service industry workers, especially those who depend on tips to make a living, are particularly vulnerable to this kind of pressure.

Some restaurant chains are already limiting employee hours, essentially creating an all part time work force to reduce labor costs and avoid the employer insurance requirements due to kick in next year under Obamacare. Ned Resnikoff reports Olive Garden and Red Lobster are among those who're experimenting with part time staff...

Rich Jeffers, a spokesperson for (Olive Garden and Red Lobster parent company) Darden, said the company was working on finding the "optimal mix" for satisfying the law's requirements while "address[ing] the cost implications of the Affordable Care Act."

"We're not moving people from full time to part time," said Jeffers. Instead, Darden has been "bringing on more people in part-time roles" in the restaurants they've opened since February, when the experiment began. The question the experiment is supposed to answer, he said, is, "Can we continue to deliver our brand experience with more part-time?"
While they say they are not reducing hours for full time employees - a claim disputed by workers and industry experts - the goal is clear. Darden hopes to shift from a mostly full time work force to an all part time work force and thereby avoid the employer requirements of the Affordable Care Act. But Saru Jayaraman, the director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, says Darden is merely using ACA as a pretext to trim labor costs...

Saru Jayaraman, the director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, alleged that Darden was using the Affordable Care Act as a mere pretext to cut back on labor costs. "Maybe they want to portray that that's the cause of the issue, but it really isn't," she said. As In These Times reported in July, ROC has been engaged in a multi-city campaign against Darden for months over charges of wage theft, grueling hours, unpaid overtime, and even racial discrimination.

Jayaraman also said that Darden was wrong to claim it had not cut hours for full-time employees. "Since we've started the campaign we've received messages ... from workers saying similar things saying their hours are being cut, their positions are being cut," she said.
Now, this trend has come to Obama friendly Austin, and in very disturbing ways. A well known and loved local chain just attached the following memo to the paychecks of all employees. The memo uses scare tactics and well worn wingnut talking points to pressure workers to tow the political line of the owners. The intent is clear; Vote GOP or else.

Regardless of how one feels about Obamacare, this is blatant coercion. This employer is using threats and intimidation to try to brow beat their employees to vote GOP. They don't say they *might* cut back hours for full time employees. They say the *will* turn full timers into part timers. Unless Obama is defeated and the GOP takes the House and the Senate.

Particularly distasteful to me - and many of their employees - is the blatant anti-Obama, pro GOP tired old talking points, many of which simply aren't true, interspersed with scare tactics and direct threats, complete with VERY SCARY ALL CAPS WARNINGS and unsubtle innuendo through Italics...

"...President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

" January, 20124 YOU will be to required to get and pay for health insurance."

"The actual bill is over 2,400 pages long..."

"YOU will have to buy insurance. Your employer _may_ help you, but YOU will be legally required to buy insurance."

"THIS IS THE LAW.... The law could be repealed, but that would require a Republican President, and Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives (wink-wink, nudge-nudge). At this point "Hope" is not a strategy (ooh, BURN!). We need to plan our way forward to face the serious challenges that this new law presents to each of us."

I haven't named this restaurant. I know there'll be a clamor to out them, and that may happen in the future. But right now my primary concern is for the employees. Outing the restaurant would no doubt cause a significant backlash here in Obama friendly Austin. Business would suffer. Yes, the owners would take a well deserved financial hit, but it's the employees who would pay the steepest price, especially those who rely on tips. While conservatives might rush in to fill the void left by disgruntled progressives, it's likely not enough, as several servers told me, "Conservatives around here don't tip worth shit."
More important than punishing this one employer is realizing that this is happening all over the country and spreading the word. Businesses large and small are trying to intimidate, scare and coerce employees to vote GOP. Employers are free to have and express their political views, just like everyone else, but when expression turns into coercion, a dangerous line has been crossed. No one of any political stripe should be forced to accept views with which they fundamentally disagree just to keep their job.

My suggestion is instead of seeking to shame this one employer, let's all start asking all of our favorite restaurants and other service businesses if they've pressured their employees in any way.

"Have you or do you plan to pressure employees politically over ACA or any other issue?"

Let's make it a badge of honor for a local biz to proudly say, "No, we have never and would never try to coerce our employees to vote a particular way," and then publicly support those businesses that make such a pledge while avoiding those who don't.


  1. "They've" re-enslaved us through insurance. Took them 200 odd yrs but looks like freedom and safety have fled. Traded away and so few noticed.

  2. "They"? "Them"? Paranoid much? Health care = slavery? Nice pretzel logic. FYI, this is OUR government. WE chose this. You are free to disagree but WE are the majority.

  3. These restaurant employees probably make under $25000 a year so they fall well below the requirement.

  4. Very true, many of their employees falll below the requirement. That's why this is such an insidious effort to coerce votes. Many more will fall below the line after owners cut their hours.


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