There’s another NRA in our nation that is working overtime to take advantage of the American people and crush the power of American labor- the National Restaurant Association. This NRA is also a powerful lobbying machine, but one that gets much less attention than their firearm-obsessed cousins. It spearheads the fight against raising the minimum wage, struggled violently against the increase in overtime pay, and against paid sick leave. Under Herman Cain’s leadership in 1996, the NRA successfully lobbied Congress to freeze the pay rate for servers and other tipped workers at $2.13- which has remained stagnant ever since, keeping waiters and bussers in perpetual poverty.
The organization dedicates itself to stripping workers of all benefits and leaving them at the mercy of their employers, to be kept underpaid and powerless, a perpetually exploitable underclass forced to survive off government support and funneling the profits to the CEOs of their member companies. They include some 52,000 companies, including McDonalds, Disney, Taco Bell, and KFC. Their usual strategy is to condemn and lobby against every piece of legislation that would improve the lot of their workers, condemning them as “job killers” and issue piteous complaints about how it would hurt “small businesses”-like Buffalo Wild Wings.
The restaurant industry in America accounted for 9% of US private sector jobs in 2014, but over 40% of their workers live in poverty- and their wages have stagnated at around $10 an hour- 44% less than other sectors. Restaurant workers work extremely long hours under stressful and physically discomforting conditions in exchange for a pittance. Job security is very unstable- many workers will go to work even if they are sick, because they might not have a job to come back to if they don’t.
Restaurant CEOs make more money in half a day than their employees will in a year. “It’s a picture of uncontrolled greed…how can it be that the CEOs are making more in half a day than many of their workers are making in an entire year—and yet they can’t afford to raise the pay of those workers?” asks Economic Policy Institute vice president Ross Eisenbrey.
It’s an absolute travesty, and yet another glaring reason why the American middle class is dying, strangulated by avaricious corporations who have bought Republican political influence with PACs and donations- $60,000 to the Republican Party apparatus, not to mention individual candidates- a total of $2,551,996 is lobbying donations last year.
President Obama’s successful efforts to expand the overtime laws is a big step in the right direction. Before that change, salaried workers would be expected to work anywhere from 50 to 80 hours a week, without receiving any compensation for the extra time put in or the detrimental effects that such a schedule has on one’s personal life.
Both NRAs must be stopped. Our restaurant workers deserve so much better than the treatment and conditions which they currently endure. America loves its food, we fetishizes our cooking shows and celebrity chefs, but never really see the brutal reality of life in a kitchen.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.