FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

– Miami, Los Angeles, and additional NYC Capital Grille Workers added to class action litigation with claims of wage theft & discrimination –

Miami Capital Grille workers have turned up the heat at their restaurant. Tired of racial discrimination, hostile treatment, and wage theft, these workers, along with the support of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and community allies, have joined the growing national movement for “Dignity at Darden” – calling on Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest full-service casual dining company and owner of the fine dining Capital Grille chain, to ensure fair, healthy, and safe workplaces.

Today, the original litigation filed on January 31st with the claims of New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. area Capital Grille workers was amended to add Miami and Los Angeles workers as well as additional New York City workers, making Miami the 5th major city to join the “Dignity at Darden” campaign. Miami and Los Angeles Capital Grille workers share claims with workers in other cities of alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage and hour laws.

“The restaurant industry in predicting record growth this year with unprecedented sales of over $630 billion dollars. Last year, Darden Restaurants, which is headquartered right next door in Orlando, Florida, made over $7 billion in sales,” said Jean Souffrant, Coordinator of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami, “This incredible growth, though, cannot come on the backs of workers – the industry cannot rely on poverty wages, discrimination, verbal and physical abuse, and a lack of paid sick days to fuel their expansion.”

To mark the launch of their campaign, yesterday evening over 60 workers and ROC United supporters from Jobs with Justice, One Miami, South Florida AFL-CIO, Occupy Miami, Miami Worker Center, and Power U Center for Social Change walked into the Miami Capital Grille during the busy dinner service and read a demand letter to the manager citing workers allegations of discrimination – being denied equal opportunity to obtain adequate training and promotions from within – wage theft, and hostile work environment. Maurose Frantz, a current dishwasher at the restaurant said, “Haitian workers at The Capital Grille Miami need to support each other because we do not get the respect we deserve. We are pressured to come in sick to work, our hours are reduced drastically without any explanation, and some are even clocked out by management before they’re done working! I’m taking a stand for my people and all Capital Grille workers who are not treated fairly.”

Improving pay and benefits and removing barriers to advancement for workers in this large and fast-growing industry are critical to the nation’s economic recovery. The National Restaurant Association just released its 2012 forecast, which predicts the restaurant industry will earn a record-breaking $632 billion in revenue this year, despite the country’s economic downturn – and in 2011, Darden’s sales exceeded $7 billion. Further, restaurant workers account for nearly one in every 12 private sector workers. Darden owns and operates approximately 1,900 restaurants worldwide, including Capital Grille, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Longhorn Steakhouse, and made more than half a billion dollars in net income in fiscal year 2011. Their CEO is from Wall Street – a former executive of J.P. Morgan, Kidder, Peabody & Company, and First Boston Corporation – and in 2011 had compensation of more than $8 million along with stock shares and options worth $22 million, all the while Darden restaurant workers are paid as little as $2.13 per hour for tipped employees and $7.25 per hour for non-tipped employees, with no paid sick days.

The Miami workers joining the “Dignity at Darden” campaign are members of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, the only national restaurant workers’ organization in the U.S. and seeks to improve wages and working conditions for the nation’s low-wage restaurant workforce.  The new campaign comes on the heels of a recent report by ROC-United and Cornell University, “Taking the High Road,” which challenges the idea that restaurants can only prosper with low labor costs.  Research in the report shows that providing employees with sustainable wages, benefits and opportunities for advancement helps to ensure the long-term success and financial stability of a restaurant.  The campaign also includes ROC-United’s 2012 Diners’ Guide, which provides information on the treatment of workers in restaurants across the country, singling out both the ‘high road’ and ‘low road’ employers.

“The campaign for ‘Dignity at Darden’ is an important piece of a larger effort to raise industry standards across the country and strengthen our economy by ensuring that workers do not have to live in poverty,” said Saru Jayaraman, Co-Director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, “Our approach is to support and promote restaurant employers that are doing the right thing such as providing decent wages, paid sick days, and fair promotions policies, while at the same time calling attention to employers that do not respect their workers, such as Darden Restaurants.”

ROC-United was founded after September 11th, 2001 to provide support to restaurant workers displaced as a result of the World Trade Center tragedy. It has grown into a national restaurant workers organization with more than 9,000 members in nine states and has won agreements totaling $5 million for restaurant workers who faced illegal treatment.