Darden Shareholder Meeting 2013: Red Lobster and Capital Grille workers stand up and let their voices be heard!
By Diana Robinson, FCWA
It’s Wednesday September 18, a hot and humid day in Orlando, Florida. We are all congregated outside the Peabody Hotel in our blue ROC t-shirts. This year, we are clearly making a statement that we are here and we want you to know who we are. At a press conference, Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, introduces Carolyn, a Red Lobster worker from New Orleans who earns $2.13 an hour. Carolyn talks about how hard it is to live on $2.13 an hour and why it’s important that the tipped minimum wage be raised.
Karlyn and I rush off into the Peabody Hotel where the shareholder meeting is taking place, with our t-shirts on, of course! So there is no surprise when we arrive at the registration desk and everyone is weirdly nice, with fake smiles and over-accommodating. The tension is so high you can feel it exuding from the body of the women registering us. They question our right to enter the shareholder meeting, but ultimately they can’t deny us entry. But there is a new request – this year, our bags must be checked and kept in a separate room.
As Karlyn and I enter the room where the meeting is taking place, the first three rows are filled with Darden board members and executives. We take our seats, and we hear about how the company is faring and new programs are being introduced in Darden restaurants. Finally we get to the part where CEO Clarence Otis answers questions, and he is faced with addressing the concerns of his workforce. When asked about the abysmal wage of $2.13, he blatantly denies that anyone in his restaurants makes that wage, and remember: Karlyn is sitting right there! When Clarence is asked about providing health insurance to part-time workers, he candidly answers, “there isn’t high enrollment for full-time workers, so it doesn’t make sense to offer to part-time workers.” That’s because full-time workers can’t afford the health insurance! And finally, when asked about paid sick days, he says that workers “seem” to be happy with the system of swapping shifts.
As all of this is taking place inside the shareholder meeting, ROC members, OUR Wal-Mart members, and allies are holding an action outside the Peabody Hotel chanting “We can’t live off $2.13” and “Darden, Darden, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side!” As the meeting ends, we unite with the outside group and then head to Darden headquarters where we continue to chant “pay, pay, pay…pay your workers!”
It was clear at this year’s shareholder meeting that the organizing work that has been done to educate people about Darden and its bad labor practices has made an impact. And most of all, they were held accountable by their workers and they know they will have to respond!