Crowd Protests 'Unfair' Employment Practices Outside Capital Grille
About 30 people gathered outside The Capital Grille in Friendship Heights on Tuesday night, Jan. 17, to protest against 'discriminatory' employment practices allegedly followed by Darden, the restaurant's parent company.
About 30 people demonstrated outside The Capital Grille restaurant in Chevy Chase Tuesday night alleging unjust workplace policies for restaurant workers.
The peaceful demonstration was part of a "Dignity at Darden" campaign, which calls for an end to what the campaign calls "discrimination against workers based on their race and gender" by Darden Restaurants, said Nikki Lewis, the campaign's organizer, in an email to Patch.
Darden Restaurants is the world's largest full-service restaurant company (according to Darden Restaurants' website).
Other restaurants owned by Darden Restaurants include Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and LongHorn Steakhouse, "all of which have similar unjust workplace policies for their workers. But our campaign is focused on Capital Grille, their star fine dining branch," Lewis added.
Darden Restaurants, however, disagrees with the allegations.
"We are absolutely a company that respects our employees," said Rich Jeffers, a Darden Restaurants spokesperson.
"We comply with all federal and state labor laws," he added.
The protesters have sent two letters to Darden Restaurants and have listed the group for alleged wage theft and unfair hiring practices, Jeffers said, but they have provided no specific instances of unfair practices, he added, "[so we're] at a loss about what they are alleging."
Darden Restaurants offers an anonymous hotline for employes to use to voice their concerns and complaints regarding Darden Restaurants. There are also peer review and arbitration programs, Jeffers said. Ninety-eight percent of employee issues are resolved in an open-door policy, he added.
And, "they say we don’t promote people, but that’s not true," Jeffers added. "We promote into our management and training program nearly 50 percent of hourly employees."
"We Have a Dream..."
Tuesday's demonstration was inspired by the recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Each demonstrator held a handmade poster reading, "We Have a Dream that One Day...," followed by campaign demands such as "...all workers at Darden will be treated with dignity and respect," "...Darden will stop discriminating against workers based on their race and gender" and "...tipped restaurant workers will be paid more than $2.13 per hour," Lewis said.
About 30 demonstrators—restaurant workers and members of the community—joined in the protest, which included traditional labor justice chants and "one courageous demonstrator lead[ing] us in singing 'We Shall Overcome'."
"We created a lot of noise, and had many patrons of the restaurant and shoppers [passing by] stop and ask us what our protest was about. ... It was empowering and the word is spreading...," Lewis said. "We had many cars drive by us and honk in support. Plus as usual, we had some cops and security guards monitoring our peaceful assembly," she added.
Protests against Darden's policies are not new, nor are they limited to Friendship Heights.
"Dozens of workers from Capital Grilles in DC and Chicago have come forward to ROC [Restaurant Opportunities Centers United] with stories of racial and gender discrimination that seem to be common practice in hiring, firing, and promotions procedures at the Capital Grille. There have also been a number of wage and hour complaints against the company, as well as complaints about inaccessibility or [non-existence] of paid sick days and health benefits," Lewis wrote in an email to Patch.
"We know that the Darden Corporation can afford to give an inch to its employees who work so hard to make the company profitable. We also believe that the company has a legal obligation to end the racially discriminatory practices that too often happen throughout their restaurant group," she added.
But, while Darden Restaurants would like to "find a resolution [to the allegations], we have been given no specifics" from which to base a resolution, Rich Jeffers said.
Editor's note: This article has been corrected.