While Walmart is doubling down on its relationship with Duck Dynasty following Phil Robertson’s controversial comments about homosexual sex and the Jim Crow South, another popular chain has decided to remove certain items related to the show from its stores. Cracker Barrel made the announcement on its Facebook page Friday:
The suggestion that items related to Phil Robertson “might offend some of our guests” was met by some outrage by the company’s conservative fan base. “Worried about offending gays? What about offending Christians???????????” one popular comment reads. Another person wrote, “After you are done removing the selected products, go ahead and remove a bunch of tables and chairs……you won’t be needing them any more.”
The decision by the company comes with some level of irony given the fact that it was held up as a symbol of the Republican Party during the 2012 presidential election. The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman described the presidential election as a contest between Whole Foods and Crack Barrel shoppers:
In 2012, the campaign might be a contest between these alternate universes of culture and cuisine: Whole Foods Markets and Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores.
In 2008, candidate Barack Obama carried 81 percent of counties with a Whole Foods and just 36 percent of counties with a Cracker Barrel —a record 45-point gap. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore won 58 percent of counties now containing a Whole Foods and 26 percent of those now boasting a Cracker Barrel, a 32-point difference. And in 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton won 60 percent of Whole Foods counties and 40 percent of Cracker Barrel counties — a mere 20-point margin.
Wasserman’s prediction was borne out by the 2012 election results. While Obama’s percentage dropped slightly to 77% in Whole Foods counties, his support in Cracker Barrel counties dropped even further, with less than a third of voters in those areas supporting the president.
Just as A&E risked upsetting Duck Dynasty’s loyal viewers when the network decided to suspend Robertson, is Cracker Barrel turning off its conservative customer base by deciding to operate “within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people?”
All disgust aside, I’m happy that some of the real Christians in the area stepped up. Read on:
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. —A local server was thanked for good service during a recent meal at an Overland Park restaurant, and also received an anti-gay message with no tip.
KMBC 9 News found out about the incident on Facebook, where customers at the Carrabba’s Italian Grill at 106th Street and Metcalf Avenue are rallying to the server’s support.
Here’s what happened: A server went to pick up a check from a meal, and found a message on the back of the bill. It read: “Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to God. May God have mercy on you.”
Friends of the server and customers took to social media to spread the word about what happened, and have vowed to go to the restaurant on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. as a sign of support.
The server has responded to the incident, saying “The offers to help pay me back are much appreciated, but not at all needed. I’d prefer to let my work ethic and my service do the talking, nothing else.”
Nine months after fast food workers in New York City walked off the job on “Black Friday,” their efforts to change the industry’s pay standards have gone national. Workers are striking in roughly 50 cities on Thursday in hopes of converting the trickle of strikes throughout the summer in cities like Seattle, St. Louis, and Milwaukee into a flood.
In addition to the nine cities that have already seen strikes this summer, places like Boston, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, and Hartford are joining the fight on Thursday. Organizers welcomed reports that one restaurant manager in Hartford plans to fire anyone who participates in the strike, saying that such illegal retaliation will only bring immediate high-profile pressure from workers and their supporters, further raising the profile of the effort to end poverty wages in food service.
Kyle King, a Burger King cashier in Boston, told the Boston Globe that he and the thousands of other workers expected to strike Thursday have to risk being fired if they want to change anything. “I don’t know what I’ll lose first,” King said, “lose my job or lose my sanity.” Thursday also brings the fast food strikes to major cities in the south for the first time. Unions are less powerful in the south, and legal protections for workers tend to be weaker in southern states.
Low-wage workers in the retail and fast food industries have been walking off the job since last year to demand a minimum wage of $15 and the right to organize into unions. The fast food industry’s profits have soared, but those gains haven’t trickled down to workers. Fast food jobs, like the other low-wage service sector jobs that have been the primary source of post-recession job growth, do not currently allow workers to support themselves financially. McDonald’s recommends that its employees find a second job and go without heat or air conditioning in order to survive on the chain’s typical wages.
As the strikes have spread, the drumbeat to raise the minimum wage has grown louder. One congressional proposal would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour, which would barely catch up to the buying power the minimum wage had in 1968.
Fast food operations in other countries and a handful of chains in the U.S. that are committed to paying livable wages have shown that companies can still make healthy profits while paying substantially higher wages.
The Other NRA: How the Insidiously Powerful Restaurant Lobby Makes Sure Fast-Food Workers Get Poverty Wages and Have to Work While Sick | Alternet
Editors note: This is the first in a series of reader-supported—i.e. crowdfunded —articles about the powerful National Restaurant Association and the plight of low-wage workers who are being screwed at every turn by industry lobbying tactics and misleading propaganda. An amazing 387 AlterNet readers contributed more than $5,500 to support this ongoing investigative project. Many of the donors are listed at the end of the article.While thousands of fast-food workers were preparing to walk off their jobs earlier this summer to seek raises to $15 an hour, the industry’s corporate lobbyist, the National Restaurant Association, was celebrating a string of political victories blocking state minimum wage increases and preempting local sick day laws.
In June, the NRA boasted that its lobbyists had stopped minimum wage increases in 27 out of 29 states in 2013. In Connecticut, which increased its state minimum wage, a raise in the base pay for tipped workers such as waitresses and bartenders vanished in the final bill. A similar scenario unfolded in New York State: It increased its minimum wage, but the NRA’s last-minute lobbying derailed raising the pre-tip wage at restaurants and bars. The deals came despite polls showing 80 percent support for raising the minimum wage.
The NRA’s lobbying didn’t stop there. It also told members that it blocked a dozen states this year from passing laws that would require earned paid sick leave, which is what New York City and Portland, Oregon adopted. Meanwhile, it boasted that six states, including Florida, passed NRA-backed laws that preemptively ban localities from granting earned and paid employee sick time.
“These are horrible things, but there are amazing things that are happening to change it,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director and co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), which has been working a dozen years to slowly change the industry’s exploitive business model and labor practices. “And there will be increasingly important stuff coming up.”
As fast-food workers across the country prepare for a second nationwide walkout over wages on Thursday, most Americans have little idea how profitable and politically aggressive the corporate mainstays of America’s second biggest employer have become. While labor activists have had victories in 2013, such as New York and Portland passing sick leave laws, and New Jersey poised to raise its minimum wage via a ballot measure this fall, the restaurant industry’s lobbying powerhouse is at war with the industry’s workers.
“It’s an old-boy network. It’s very old-school thinking. It’s very, very conservative,” said Paul Saginaw, founder of Zingerman’s food companies in Michigan, which employes 600 people and unlike the NRA, supports better benefits for employees like healthcare. “There has to be some pressure put out to provide better lives for people.”
Most Americans are unaware that millions of people who work in the industry—especially the 2.5 million fast-food preparers and servers who earn an average of $8.74 an hour, according to federal labor statistics—are not just teens in their first job, but adults with families to support. They may not know there’s a separate minimum wage for tipped workers, $2.13 an hour, that hasn’t changed in 22 years—although 32 states have raised it slightly. They may not realize that they, as the restaurant-going public, subsidize owners via cash tips, even as the NRA routinely tells legislators its industry cannot afford to pay better wages or basic benefits.
Most Americans don’t know that restaurant salaries are so low that the industry’s 12.2 million workers use food stamps at twice the rate of the U.S. workforce, and are three times as likely to be below the poverty line. Or that women earn less than men in similar jobs. Or that restaurants are among the biggest low-wage employers of people of color. Or that virtually every chain—except for In and Out, according to ROC—don’t want to pay living wages and benefits or offer real opportunities for advancement.
Most tellingly, almost every national chain—from fast-food outfits such as Yum! Brands Inc. (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC) and McDonald’s to full-service dining such as Darden Restaurants Inc. (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille)—have reported higher revenues, profits, margins and cash holdings to Wall Street analysts despite the recession, according to the National Employment Law Project. Giants like McDonalds had 7.8 percent revenue growth over the past decade, according to Gurufocus.com, a financial reporting site. Yum had 10-year revenues of 8.7 percent, and Darden’s 10-year revenues grew 9.1 percent.
But last winter, as the NRA was fighting minimum wage increases and paid sick leave, it was telling lawmakers that the industry could not afford to pay employees more. Yet this August, the NRA’s newsletter was predicting another profitable year, where revenues would be up 4 percent compared to 2012. “Restaurant and foodservice sales are expected to reach a record high of $660.5 billion this year,” another 2013 revenue forecast on its website said.
“The NRA is the worst employer lobby in the U.S.,” Jayaraman said, speaking about its lobbying and PR operation that pretends it is not an industry dominated by Fortune 500 companies, but instead a rickety mom-and-pop operation teetering on the brink of ruin. “The [earnings] data does not bear any resemblance to what they say is true.”
There are many reasons why America’s restaurant industry, which employs nearly one in 10 Americans, gets away with underpaying its workers and blocking laws that would benefit employees. These reasons include the industry’s longtime low-wage business mode; its longstanding fear-based lobbying that any wage or benefit increase would kill jobs; and a sophisticated political operation that nurtures ties to both parties, encouraging lawmakers to adopt anti-worker laws.
“The question is where is it coming from and who benefits,” said Ben Goldfarb, executive director of Wellstone Action, a group that trains progressive activists. “We know who benefits. It’s the Restaurant Association members and the electeds [legislators] who do their bidding… It’s not about what’s good or bad for the economy.”
Exploitive Roots, Exploitive Lobbying
The business model—where almost everyone except for top management earns an average of slightly more than $11 per hour—is premised on paying workers the lowest legal salary and has not changed in decades. As theNew Yorker’s James Surowiecki recently explained, many of today’s largest service-sector companies, particularly restaurants and big-box retailers, were founded decades ago and sought to hire young people and housewives as low-wage, part-time employees, to give them work experience and spending money. “The reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have.”
This summer’s fast food walk-outs—which will continue this fall—are part of a campaign to challenge and change that status quo, particularly as the media is discovering that the largely non-unionized restaurant workforce is filled with people with families. One consequence of the Great Recession is that millions of middle-class jobs have been replaced by lower-paying service jobs—food sector jobs that are now filled by adults with children, and jobs that offer little opportunity for advancemment.
“On what I’m earning right now you have to choose between paying your rent and eating the next day,” Christopher Drumgold, a 32-year-old father of two from Detroit who earns $7.40 an hour after a year at McDonald’s, told reporters during July’s fast-food worker walk-out. “Fifteen dollars an hour would be great. We’d be able to pay our living costs.”
This kind of working-class struggle prompted President Obama to call for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 in his 2013 State of the Union speech. Some Democrats in Congress quickly responded by going higher, proposing it be raised to $10.10, and that the minimum cash wage for tipped workers be 70 percent of the federal (or higher state) minimum wage.
While polls consistently find that 80 percent of Americans, including majorities of Republicans and people earrning more than $100,000 a year, support a $10.10 wage, the industry’s national and state-level lobbyists went to work to kill any increase at the state or federal levels. And if that didn’t work, they sought exemptions for tipped workers in states where the increase was seen as passing.
What unfolded in New York, which raised its minimum wage but not for tipped restaurant workers, and in Maryland, where the NRA stopped a minimum wage increase in a legislative committee, shows just how the NRA wields its power and influence.
“The NRA is a very conservative organization… my values are so different,” said Saginaw, who has been in the restaurant business for 31 years and was a former member. “They certainly weren’t representing my interests. They talk the small business owner game a lot but their lobbying efforts are dictated by the large corporate chains. I’m a small businessman.”
New York State: A Cautionary Tale
Many Americans are not aware that there is more than one minimum wage. There’s the federal wage for non-tipped workers, which is $7.25 an hour or $15,080 a year and took effect in July 2009. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have raised that rate. A few states, such as New Mexico and California, allow jurisdictions to set locally higher minimums.
Then there’s the tipped wage, for jobs where the public tips workers. The federal tip wage, which is $2.13 an hour, was last raised in 1991. Thirty-two states have raised it slightly. Employers are supposed to pay the difference between that base and other state or federal minimum. But, as ROC United said, that doesn’t always happen. And then there are other minimum wages for immigrants, minors and people with disablities.
In New York, the minimum wage increase in 2013 fell prey to partisan games. “It could be seen as good intentions gone awry,” said Frank Sobrino, press secretary for New York State Democratic Sen. Jose Peralta, explaining what happened as his state legislature raised the state’s minimum wage this year from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour by 2016.
New York’s Senate is controlled by an odd majority of Republicans and so-called independent Democrats—not his boss, Sobrino said. When the GOP agreed to raise the wage in secret last-minute negotiations—after blocking it for years—the final bill did not include a tip wage increase for waiters and bartenders, which is what the industry wanted. Tipped workers at car washes and airports will get a raise, said Working Families spokesman Joe Dinkin. “But hotel and restaurant waiters and bartenders, which are the largest group of tipped workers, do not get an automatic increase. Rather, the tipped minimum wage will go to the Wage Board, which is controlled by Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo, to do what he wants with it. And yes, this is because of the National Restaurant Association.”
The bill also contained an unprecedented and alarming payoff to fast-food chains and big retailers: a tax credit offsetting the cost of hiring teenagers, but only for minimum wage. That subsidy drew the media’s attention. A Wall Street Journal editorial, “Minimum Intelligence,” said it provided an incentive to fire workers 20 years and older and replace them with teens. “For a teen working full time, the annual subsidy could be worth as much as $2,800 per worker by 2016,” the Buffalo News editorial said.
Sen. Peralta, the Queens Democrat, has since proposed a bill to nullify the tax break that analysts say will be worth millions to big employers.
There were two features of this deal that exempifly how the NRA operates, ROC’s Jayaraman said. First, NRA lobbyists keep telling lawmakers that their industry primarily employees teenagers and young people who don’t need higher wages and benefits. Their PR shop has even absurdly claimed that raising minimum wages would kill entry-level jobs. That line apparently was bought by New York State’s Republican senator who inserted the tax subsidy at the last minute.
But the brouhaha over the tax subsidy also helped the NRA keep its last-minute deal on excluding the minimum wage for food servers somewhat hidden. “They are worried about public outrage,” Jayaraman said, noting that the same kind of secret last-minute deal excluding tip wages emerged in Connecticut when it raised its minimum wage. “That happened at the last minute with legislators and lobbyists for the NRA,” she said. “Everyone who had been working on this was blindsided. Typically, they don’t bring it [excluding tip wages] up at hearings.”
Maryland: Sowing Fear Not Hope
But in Maryland, the NRA’s lobbyists were more brazen. They did bring it up excluding tipped workers and they trashed them—but only after waiting six hours to testify, long after most labor activists had testified and the hearing room was almost empty.
First came Carville Collins, representing a regional Wendy’s chain with 108 stores and 3,100 employees. He rolled out the NRA’s standard “job killer” speech, which was also presented by NRA lobbyists in Congress this spring. Carville said that raising wages “imposes costs we cannot pass onto consumers.” He said a proposed three-step increase to $10 an hour would cause “five to eight” stores to close, putting as many as 300 people out of work. Moreover, if Maryland’s minimum wage was higher than nearby states, it would attract out-of-staters who would “come and displace Maryland workers.” Carville then cited research from the NRA-funded Employment Policy Institute, projecting that a national $9.80 minimum wage would kill “256,000 to 768,000 jobs,” including thousands of jobs in Maryland.
Melvin Thompson, senior vice president of the NRA’s state affiliate, the Restaurant Association of Maryland, immediately followed, and opposed raising minimum wages “for all the reasons you have heard already.” But then he attacked, claiming that servers often stole tips—saying they didn’t need an increase. He said restaurant workers made two to three times the minimum wage and some waiters earned more money than owners. He concluded, “the tip portion doesn’t need to be included in this bill.”
Needless to say, progressive restaurant owners, activists and economists have thoroughly debunked each of these claims. As Zingerman’s Saginaw said, “The workforce has changed. It’s not just students and people out of college. It’s much more diverse than that.” Economists have pointed out that at McDonald’s, for example, half of the cost of raising its minimum hourly pay to $10.50 could come by adding a nickel to the price of a $4 Big Mac. Other studies by ROC have found that a dime increase in daily food prices could support a 33 percent raise for minimum wage workers and a doubling of the base tip wage.
But, as the Wellstone Institute’s Ben Goldfarb explained, NRA lobbyists seek to sow just enough doubt and gray areas that it becomes easy for legislators to vote against proposed wage-increase bills, or just exempt their industry entirely.
These fear-based scripts—which have been studied and rebutted by the National Employment Law Project (NELP)—prompted legislators, including a handful of Democrats, to vote against the Maryland bill in committee. The local advocates,Raise Maryland, are not giving up. They have analyzed how much Maryland gave away in business subsidies this year and written memos rebutting the NRA’s testimony. Raise Maryland volunteers have been knocking on thousands of doors this summer to generate support and get people to write to lawmakers to change their minds and reconsider the issue, campaign coordinator Matt Hanson said.
Suppressing Wages Isn’t Enough
The NRA did not respond to a list of questions from AlterNet beyond an initial phone call where a spokeswoman emphasized that the industry’s profit margins are so slim—3 or 4 percent—it can’t afford to do more. Yet the industry is America’s largest low-wage sector and is filled with corporations that have been consistently profitable despite the sluggish economy, according to NELP’s analyses of Wall Street earnings reports. Yet the NRA not only opposes raising wages and linking wages to inflation, it has another draconian priority: opposing local laws granting earned sick leave.
Despite protests by workers who have publically explained what it’s like to have to go to work sick, the NRA has been lobbying in statehouses to preempt cities and counties from passing local laws that would require employers to grant earned paid sick leave. ROC notes that 90 percent of restaurant workers don’t have paid sick days, and “two-thirds report cooking, preparing and serving food while sick.” That reality, captured in videos by sick workers, helped a coalition led by Working Families in New York City and Connecticut to adopt local sick leave laws. These were significant victories. The New York City law will affect a million workers. (San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and the District of Columbia also require earned sick time.)
New York’s passage of sick leave legislation grabbed headlines, especially as it became law when the city council overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto. But in the past two years, NRA lobbyists have pushed eight states to preempt or repeal local labor laws that include requiring paid sick leave. The industry—helped by prominent Democrats such as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter—also beat proposed sick leave laws in Denver and Philadelphia.
This trend started in Wisconsin and shows how right-wing alliances spread anti-labor legislation. In 2011, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker backed an industry-led effort to ban paid sick leave laws, like the one Milwaukee’s votersadopted as a ballot measure in 2008 while Walker was county executive—its top elected official. Seventy percent of voters had backed paid sick leave. That spring, the passage of Wisconsin’s bill preempting local laws was touted as a model by the NRA at meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the pro-corporate lobbying mill. ALEC members, almost all Republicans, introduced copycat bills in their states, Wellstone Action’s Goldfarb said, saying this was how the NRA’s priority spread and “scaled.” These were passed by GOP-majority statehouses, sometimes using strongarm tactics that dismayed labor organizers.
This summer, for example, Republicans in Florida’s Orange County—near Walt Disney World—were lobbied by fast-food giants, including Darden, which owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Capital Grille, and Disney, and intentionallydelayed acting on another sick leave ballot measure that had 80 percent support in polls. That tactic gave the restaurant lobby time to push its preemption bill through its legislature, which GOP Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in July. Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana and Tennessee have all passed bans on local sick leave laws. Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma and South Carolina are considering it.
The Arizona Restaurant Association lobbyist said last March that no one was proposing a sick leave law in her state, but “we’re fortunate to get out in front if it.” In Memphis, Tennessee, the prospect that Shelby County was considering a wage theft ordinance—because restaurants there hadn’t paid $270,000 in back wages to workers that a coalition of lawyers and churches recovered in court—prompted its GOP-majority state legislature to act and preempt local labor laws. “That [wage-theft law]… would have been very harmful to local businesses,” the Tennessee Hospitality Association told its members.
Public Health vs. Private Profits
In all these political fights, the question of who is being harmed is the critical question. The NRA is touting an old anti-regulatory script—trotted out by state chambers of commerce for years—that any cost that cuts into profits is a job killer and must be stopped. But advocates like ROC and Working Families say that argument is upside down. Low pay and no benefits not only hurts worker productivity, it also hurts families and undercuts local consumer spending.
“It’s an old-school chamber of commerce attitude—it’s anti regulation,” Zingerman’s Saginaw said. “We believe that by paying higher wages and benefits we will get better productivity from our staff and have more satisfied customers.”
And when it comes to sick leave, there is another dimension: the public is at risk when food is prepared by workers who can’t afford to take a day or few hours off to visit a doctor. ROC’s 2012 report on Darden described a North Carolina Olive Garden worker who came to work in 2011 with Hepatitis A, prompting the county to vaccinate thousands of people and a class-action lawsuit.
“Almost no laws anywhere in the country require restaurants to provide paid sick leave for employees who come down with anything from the sniffles to a norovirus,” noted Grubstreet.com. “On the other hand, pretty much every single municipal health department in the country has a rule or law requiring employers to keep sick employees away from food and out of the restaurants, and that’s where things get problematic.”
Problematic is not exactly the correct word. When it comes to the NRA and its state affiliates, greedy and shamelessly political are more accurate. And that is why thousands of fast-food workers across the country plan to walk out of their jobs on Thursday, in what organizers says will be months of continuing labor actions—including a focus in September on raising tip wages.
“The NRA is a lobbying machine—it is for the owners of restaurants and restaurant chains that are turning a profit off the backs of workers,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor lawyer and owner of the Just Crust, a pizza restaurant in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”
High Road Employers
Meanwhile, advocates like ROC have formed a progressive restaurant trade association, RAISE, and are encouraging people to sign petitions to raise minimum wages and benefits, as well as use its new National Diners’ Guideidentifying which restaurants treat employees fairly. They’re also encouraging people dining out to ask owners about paying fair wages, just as the public asked about organic and local foodstuffs and gradually changed menu offerings.
“We try to encourage that kind of economic inquiry,” said Liss-Riordan, a RAISE member. “A few years ago, it was pretty revolutionary to ask, ‘How fresh is your arugula?’ Now we want people to ask, ‘Are you paying fair wages?’ It’s just getting started. We are hoping that it’s a powerful idea that will take off.”
Mike Ruffer, a Five Guys franchise owner who operates eight of the chain restaurants in the Durham, North Carolina area, has decided to join the restaurant industry’s war on health care reform, claiming that the additional costs of providing his workers with health care coverage will raise the prices of hot dogs and burgers for customers who patronize his establishments.
“Any added costs are going to have to be passed on,” Ruffer told the Examiner:
Ruffer was the star witness at a Monday Heritage Foundation seminar on the impact Obamacare will have on small businesses. He is typical of many: Because he has enough full time employees to activate the law, he faces either coughing up the money to provide health insurance or paying a fine of up to $3,000 per worker.
Ruffer initially thought he would escape the law because he created each restaurant as its own company. But the law doesn’t recognize that distinction,so now he’s trying to determine if he can fire enough workers, or cut enough hours, to slide out of the grasp of Obamacare.
As the Examiner explicitly states, Ruffer is actively trying to “escape” the health reform law, and has had his mind made up about it for a while. That’s become an increasingly common position among large employers — particularly in the service industry, where large restaurant chains have been threatening to cut workers’ benefits by shifting costs onto them, cut back on wages, cut back on hours, or raise their products’ prices.
To date, these employers’ efforts have not been met with much public enthusiasm, and have even resulted in massive PR backlashes. Employers who choose this route are also putting themselves at risk of driving away potential employees who would rather take jobs that offer more robust benefits, as the vast majority of employers plan to keep offering health coverage plans under Obamacare.
Cenk Uygur talks with Current correspondent Jacki Schechner about two fast-food franchise owners that are cutting workers’ hours to part time so that they won’t have to offer them health insurance. Though the Affordable Care Act’s provisions don’t kick in until 2014, many are trying to blame Obamacare now for the cutbacks.
“It’s total baloney,” Schechner says. “There’s a larger influence here that doesn’t have anything to do with the Affordable Care Act — but it’s been demonized, and so it’s a good scapegoat.”
- h/t: Current.com
On Monday, ThinkProgress reported about a Mexican restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina whose employees wear T-shirts (pictured below) showing a wooden trap with tacos as bait and the caption “HOW TO CATCH AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT”.
Now, Taco Cid issued an equally offensive response on its website, flagged by the Palmetto Public Record. The eatery defended the shirts as “witty and comical,” arguing that “Taco Cid and it’s [sic] employees are not racist.” The restaurant insists that the shirts, which show a pair of tacos under a trap and singles out “ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS,” contain “NO racial nor hate remarks towards any specific ethnic group.”
But it also goes on to articulate a false political argument, claiming that undocumented workers cause everyone to “pay more in taxes in support of their illegal activities.” In 2010 alone, unauthorized immigrants paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes and pump billions in purchasing power into the economy. This output and spending generates jobs and opportunity.
Can you raise Herman Cain when he’s in defeat? The charismatic, long-shot GOP presidential contender’s name is suddenly on the lips of pundits after his upset victory in the Presidency 5 straw poll in Florida on Saturday.
After a strong start, Cain—a political newcomer whose only previous run was a failed bid for the Republican nomination for Senate in Georgia—faded quickly following Rep. Michele Bachmann’s June 27 entrance into the race. She stole much of Cain’s Tea Party fire and brimstone. Until then, he was running second only to Mitt Romney in many polls.
Whether his Florida triumph proves a last hurrah or the start of a comeback for Cain, his unorthodox background spotlights a curious phenomenon: the overwhelming conservatism of the pizza industry. Although Cain rose to business prominence with Pillsbury, working for the baking giant’s Burger King arm, his claim to fame is his time at the helm of Godfather’s Pizza, of which he served as CEO from 1986 until 1996, even buying the company from Pillsbury in 1990. Cain’s years at Godfather’s marked him deeply, and he has said that as a politician he intends to use the insights he gleaned in business to steer his political course. On the trail, he has frequently scheduled appearances at Godfather’s restaurants, and his signature economic proposal—the 9-9-9 Plan—even sounds a bit like a popular pizza special.
Cain also has been a generous giver to political causes over the years, donating nearly $400,000 since 1979, according to FEC records. Ninety percent of that—$359,000—has gone to Republican candidates and political action committees, with another 9 percent going to industry PACs and the remainder going to a few lonely Democrats.
But other pizza moguls have similarly generous records, according to an analysis of campaign-finance records by The Daily Beast. Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, is a staunch conservative Catholic who’s poured money into Catholic initiatives including the controversial Ave Maria University, which is paired with a planned town known as Ave Maria. But Monaghan also has put a great deal of his money into politics, donating $371,000 to Republican candidates since 1979. He’s donated $4,000 to Democrats—both recipients also have been Catholic.
The list goes on—Dan and Frank Carney, the founders of Pizza Hut, have given a combined $81,000 to Republicans over the last three decades. The trend is cross-generational, too. John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s and young enough to be the Carneys’ son, has given $33,000 to Republican candidates, mostly in his home state of Kentucky. Even in the laid-back, arch-liberal Golden State, California Pizza Kitchen founders Richard Rosenfield and Larry Flax have each given $6,500 to Republicans—with only $500 apiece to a single Democrat, former governor Gray Davis. Little Caesar’s founder Michael Ilitch is more bipartisan: he has given nearly $118,000 to Republicans, with $67,000 going to Democrats. But many of the Democratic recipients have been either in Ilitch’s home state of Michigan or officeholders well positioned to help the gambling industry, in which he also has business interests, while many of his Republican donations have been to presidential contenders or PACs outside of Michigan.
So how did a food most commonly associated with college students and indolent marijuana smokers become a mainstay of the conservative movement?
To an extent, it mirrors dynamics in the restaurant industry as a whole. Like many large corporations, restaurant chains have a vested interest in low corporate tax rates and low labor costs, meaning they oppose traditional Democratic initiatives, such as a strong minimum wage, and support traditionally Republican ones, like lower tax rates and less regulation of business. According to numbers compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, donations from the restaurant and beverage industry have favored Republicans for years. In addition, the National Restaurant Association—a leading trade group—has given approximately 3 to 1 to Republicans in recent cycles—actually a slight evening out from the early 2000s, when the group favored Republicans by as much as 9 to 1.
It may be no coincidence that Cain himself was CEO of the National Restaurant Association from 1996 to 1999. Scott DeFife, the association’s executive vice president for policy and government affairs, declined to discuss its political agenda during Cain’s term, citing turnover and changed political circumstances at the organization in the intervening years. “We’re always reviewing the policy priorities of the organization on a regular basis,” he said. “Our top issues this past year have ranged from immigration and interchange to health care and labor issues. Next year it might be completely different. It might be the farm bill or tax reform.”
The association says recipients of its political cash include elected officials with a strong record of backing causes important to restaurateurs, as well as candidates running against politicos with less industry-friendly records.
Like Cain, the National Restaurant Association staunchly opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, which was passed in 2010. The organization does, however, support comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that has backers on both sides of the aisle. Cain does not, although he says America needs more secure borders and stricter enforcement of immigration laws.
As to why Republicans are receiving such a big slice of Big Pizza’s pie, as it were, industry experts scratched their heads. David Corsun, a former restaurateur who now directs the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver, suggested part of the reason was the size of the companies in question. Large companies such as Godfather’s, Domino’s, and Papa John’s have moved right as they have gone public, and have adopted practices similar to those of other large corporations.
“From the time that they became behemoths, they became conservative, and they’re doing what supports the bottom line,” Corsun said. “The more interesting question is the smaller operators—the people operating one, two, five restaurants—and who they support.” Corsun also suggested that the small number of data points among the biggest restaurant chains could make the political leaning appear more pronounced: a small group of extremely dedicated givers—such as Cain and Monaghan—throw the numbers off.