Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sick Workers Cause 20 Percent of All Foodborne Illnesses - Disney and Darden Don't Really Care

Sick Workers Cause 20 Percent of All Foodborne Illnesses
If you're not feeling so hot after eating at your local restaurant, it might not be the food that originates the problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one-fifth of all foodborne illnesses can be linked to a sick food worker who handled the food. Why doesn't that person stay at home instead of spreading his or her germs on your meal, you ask? Likely because that worker doesn't have paid sick days.

If you're not feeling so hot after eating at your local restaurant, it might not be the food that originates the problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one-fifth of all foodborne illnesses can be linked to a sick food worker who handled the food. Why doesn't that person stay at home instead of spreading his or her germs on your meal, you ask? Likely because that worker doesn't have paid sick days.

NPR reports that the Food Chain Workers Alliance claims that "more than half of all food workers come to work sick because they can't afford to take a day off." Many kitchen staff get paid below minimum wage and have no health benefits or paid sick days. According to NPR, "Only 21 percent of the workers surveyed said they could take a paid sick day."

Of the 47.8 million cases of foodborne illnesses, over 9 million can be traced back to unhealthy workers. in recent years, Hepatitis A outbreaks have occurred in fast casual dining establishments in states across the country. Reports from Subway, Taco Bell, Friendly's, McDonald's, Olive Garden, and Chipotle have all made the list.

The Law Office of Lowell J. Kuvin is hoping that foodservice operators and retailers offer higher pay and sick days to incentivize workers to stay home. However, according to NPR, the National Restaurant Association is opposed. They believe the system that's in place should make it easy for workers to change their schedules. Scott DeFife, executive vice president for Policy & Government Affairs at the National Restaurant Association, said, "Restaurants typically offer flexible work schedules and hours that best meet the needs of their workplace and their employees, with the ability to switch or pick up shifts."

Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants (which owns restaurant chains like Olive Garden and Red Lobster) both have happy-looking public faces regarding the health of the people they employ. But behind the scenes, they’re doing everything they can to deny people working in Florida the right to earn basic benefits like paid sick days on the job.

This all started in mid-2012, when lobbyists for Disney and Darden colluded with county commissioners in Orange County, FL (a text message plot now known as “Textgate“) to keep a paid sick days measure off the ballot. A Florida judge ruled the county commissioners acted illegally, and ordered the measure back on the ballot.

But wouldn’t you know it? The 2012 ballots had already been printed. That bought Disney and Darden some time – which is exactly what they wanted. Over the next few months, Disney and Darden lobbyists worked with Republican legislators in Florida to draft a law to prohibit local governments from enacting paid sick days legislation. That bill has now passed the Florida Senate and is headed to the House for final approval.(Update: The Bill did not pass, but "there is always next year" a reporter heard Mickey Mouse say).

Here’s the rub: Last year, Darden Restaurants paid its CEO $8,100,000, while the average employee in one of their restaurants earned just $25,463. That’s nearly $3,900/hour for the CEO while most of their employees scrape by on just over $12/hour – without basic protections like paid sick days or health care benefits. The CEO-to-worker pay ratio is even worse at Walt Disney Co., where CEO Rober Iger pulled down more than $19,000/hour last year, while his employees averaged $31.

Something to consider the next time you go out to eat or plan a family vacation.