Policy: Labor

Union group's minimum wage lobbying undercut by its 'model' restaurants

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Labor unions,Jobs,Labor,Minimum Wage,Restaurant Opportunities Center

As the U.S. Senate considers minimum wage legislation, the Restaurant Opportunities Center is back on Capitol Hill, continuing its lobbying for a nearly 40-percent hike in the federally mandated pay.

ROC is a union-created “worker center” that is driving the minimum wage issue at all levels of government, including in Michigan, Seattle, and before Congress.

The Senate proposal is expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed procedurally, its death knell being a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis that the bill would kill about 500,000 working-class jobs through 2016.

But, while job loss gets the ink, less attention has been paid to what a minimum wage increase would do to consumer prices. Last week in New York, ROC sponsored an event that gives us some insight into this part of the equation.

ROC’s “High Road Restaurant Week” showcased restaurants that have embraced ROC-endorsed wage and labor practices.

ROC holds these restaurants out as models that restaurants across America should emulate, calling its “High Road” model an “ethical, pragmatic and, we believe, profitable approach to doing business.”

So we studied the dinner menus of the 27 Manhattan restaurants ROC says take the High Road, and the results will have you hoarding ramen noodles from your local dollar store.

The prices at ROC-approved eateries would bust the budget for most working families. The average price for a hamburger and fries at ROC’s High Road restaurants totals $20.50.

The cheapest salad averages $12.90. A bowl of soup averages $10.70. And a chicken entree would set you back $24.70 — you could buy 16 pounds of supermarket chicken at that price!

By comparison, the best-selling burger and fries in America runs under $6, and there are restaurants across America that offer value menus where a burger and fries run about $2.

The ROC-endorsed $20 tab explodes the myth that a minimum wage increase would be painless to consumers.

But the labor activists at ROC seem even more out of touch when you consider some of the other menu items featured by its High Road partners, these model establishments that should ostensibly guide restaurant owners nationwide.

One outlet offers a $26 order of alligator tacos. Another has that old favorite, mac and cheese, for $18. A third will serve you up asparagus and rhubarb for $33.

And the $250-per-person chef’s tasting, paired with wine, is not to be missed. These prices can’t even be replicated throughout New York City, let alone nationally.

This is not the first evidence that ROC is not a credible voice on the minimum wage. For years, it has hired unpaid interns to help argue that restaurants do not pay their workers enough.

ROC was sued by its own workers, who accused them of wage violations. And its Manhattan restaurant, Colors, has consistently lost money and is currently closed to the general public — hardly a ringing endorsement of ROC’s pay practices.

ROC’s High Road restaurants further demonstrate that ROC’s wage and benefit demands are simply not a viable option for America’s restaurants.

In addition to the job loss, the CBO says a minimum wage hike to $10.10 would cost businesses billions. That’s a lot of alligator tacos.

Congress beware: ROC’s High Road dead-ends at higher prices and closed restaurants.

Mike Paranzino is communications director for ROC Exposed, a consumer watchdog group funded in part by restaurants and others concerned about ROC's campaigns against them.
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