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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Where I Stand

In San Francisco, a small minority of restaurant owners are up in arms over legislation passed by the City of San Francisco last November which requires all small businesses to not only provide their employees sick time/sick pay, but actually mandates that they pay into a city-managed fund allocated to pay for their employees' healthcare. In addition, the minimum wage goes up this year, which upsets many business owners who rely on paying their workers the least amount they can get away with.

Although this legislation equally affects all of San Francisco's small businesses, the restaurant industry alone has been the most vociferous opponent of these changes.

Those leading the charge belong to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, an industry lobbying group which recently spearheaded the failed campaign to oust popular Board of Supervisor Chris Daly from office. In 1936, the GGRA was formed in San Francisco to represent restaurant owners during the height of wide-scale union activism, led primarily by the dockworkers of the ILWU, but which affected workers all over the city. In those days, San Francisco was known as Labor Town, and only 2 years prior San Francisco had undergone the largest general strike in American history. All union workers went on strike, including restaurant workers - who in those days outnumbered non-union workers in San Franciscan eating establishments.

Today, just a small number of restaurants workers are organized – the majority are low-wage, uninsured young workers, immigrants, and single women (many with dependents). The steps taken by our local government to improve the healthcare and livelihood of these workers – the majority of whom work behind the scenes in kitchens of every kind – is notable and supported by the majority of San Franciscans, such as myself. We've come a long way from the days when the mayor of San Francisco kept a portrait of Mussolini in his office and was known for giving the occasional Fascist salute. On the other hand, the men and women who staff the kitchens of San Francisco are in worse shape than their predecessors of 73 years ago.

With this in mind, I'd like to pose a set of smart-ass questions and snide comments of my own. Are you with me?


GGRA threat #1: The Empire Strikes Back

Let's discuss the actual size of the GGRA. You guys claim to represent 800 small businesses in San Francisco and imply that they are willing to go on "strike" for one day to protest the implementation of the healthcare law.

Actually, I went to your website and counted each and every business listed in San Francisco. There aren't 800. Not even close. At the most, there are over 300 – roughly. Many of them are chains or haute cuisine establishments with multi-million dollar budgets – not the small businesses you'd have us believe. Where are the Chinatown restaurants? Where are the Mission taquerias? Where are the coffee shops?

There are thousands of restaurants in this city. There are even more independent, small, Mom and Pop businesses. At the most, your association represents a small, but vocal, minority of San Francisco businesses. Not only would a "strike" hurt the profit margins you guys shed crocodile tears over, not to mention the folks who actually do the work for you, but it will tarnish your image – and image is everything to a restaurant.

Think: Dennys.

In the event of a one-day pseudo strike, there are some who are prepared to visit your establishment the next day and not purchase anything. Instead, they will use what they would've spent on food and drink to tip out your staff, making sure you don't see a fucking dime in the process.

I'm not sure I agree with this tactic. Personally, I'm not stepping foot into a GGRA-member business until the lawsuit is dropped or defeated. And even then, who knows?

GGRA threat # 2: The Sky Is Falling...With Chains

You claim that local government makes it hard for you to run a business. You say that if implemented, these new quality of life laws will drive small independent businesses away and San Francisco will become a town of chain restaurants.

Hmmm, that's interesting considering how many of your members are chains or might as well be. Shall we name them?

Amici's East Coast Pizzeria
Asqew Grill
Beard Papa
Boudin Bakery
Chaya Brasserie
E&O Trading Company
Extreme Pizza
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant
Hooters Bar & Grill
Houston's Restaurant
Il Fornaio
Lee's Deli
North Beach Pizza
Paradise Pizza & Pasta
Pasta Pomodoro
Puccini Restaurant Group
Roy's Restaurant
San Francisco Soup Company
Specialty's Cafe & Bakery
Squat and Gobble Cafe & Crepery
The Cheesecake Factory
Trader Vic's
Zao Noodle Bar

GGRA threat #3: We Have To Raise Prices or Show Me The Money

Food prices are going up all over place as it is. You guys have been raising prices silently for years to match inflation and the standard cost of operating a business that everyone has to pay (including workers when they don't get a raise). When the price of gas goes up, do you threaten a one day strike to buck the oil barons? When it costs more to run those fancy halogen bar lights, do you threaten PG&E with a lawsuit?

Oh, I see. You just like to beat up on the Mexicans who wash your dishes.

(Thought so.)

You're alright with picking on the little guy, because you know he's the only one you can successfully bully. I wouldn't be surprised if some of you even threatened to call the DHS to coerce your immigrant employees into supporting this lawsuit.

Fact is, you've been raising prices...because cocaine is a hell of a drug. Maybe you could start handing out a few of those rolled-up Benjamins you use to blow dust up your nose to cover the expense of having a healthy, drug-free workforce. I guess greed is a hard habit to break, which is why The Man had to step in and force you to do the right thing. Running a modern-day plantation isn't easy I know, and this lawsuit of yours is simply a pale imitation of the South's secession when The Man threatened to abolish slavery.

Actually, The Man is tired of picking up the tab for you.

Because you don't cover your workers' healthcare expenses, or provide a "sick-free" environment, the City and County of San Francisco must absorb the cost of your people coming in to the emergency room for basic services. Because they had to work and couldn't stay home to rest and recover, minor, treatable illnesses become life-threatening and we, the taxpayer, have to pick up the hospital expenses of your workers.

Either way: someone's paying.

You just want to pass the buck on to us, because it so obviously puts another one in your pocket. You want government to subsidize your business. Socialism for the restaurant owners of the GGRA, but not for the workers.

How about this? Fuck you.

Big Picture #1: Sickness

Quick: How many of you want to pay a lot of money to catch a bug that will make you deathly ill? How many of you want to work around someone who's coughing virus-ridden droplets of saliva up on you?

I do! I do!

If Jose or Jane can't take the time off of work to get over the flu or whatever ungodly virus is making the rounds, they will pass it on to their coworkers and YOU, the diner. Sick leave is a harm reduction measure that the restauranteurs of the GGRA have continually opposed. It reduces the amount of sick people floating around in the general population by kindly asking that they stay home if they, or their children, are sick – and it gives them an incentive to do so. People who make the minimum wage (or something like it after rent, food, and other expenses are subtracted from their gross pay) cannot afford to miss work. They must have the security of sick leave, otherwise they will make choices that, in the end, affect all of us.

These restauranteurs who don't want to pay their workers to stay home if they're sick: what are they saying about their clientele? That they don't care if you get sick? Just pay up and pray that you aren't infected by the hostess?

Bottom line: They don't care about you getting sick, or the health of their workers. They only care about what's in their wallet.

After all we've seen them do and oppose - shouldn't that be obvious by now?



Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Nice! Work that mojo!

1:12 PM  

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