Olive green

Lind­sey Duch­ac (left) joins oth­er Ac­tion United pick­eters out­side the Olive Garden res­taur­ant at 9280 Roosevelt Boulevard. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

— Protest­ors with an ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tion demon­strate out­side an Olive Garden res­taur­ant, de­mand­ing that em­ploy­ees be paid for sick time and fam­ily leave.


Che Saitta, of Fishtown, has held part-time jobs at vari­ous res­taur­ants over the years.

Saitta re­called rid­ing her bi­cycle to an eat­ery in Cen­ter City one day when she was hit by a truck door that the driver had swung open.

Yet, she served as a host­ess, bused tables and worked in the kit­chen that day.

“I still had to go to work be­cause I couldn’t af­ford to take the day off,” she said. “They didn’t even have Band-Aids to cov­er up my scrapes.”

Saitta, who has worked for as many as four res­taur­ants at a time, said there is gen­er­ally a “mu­tu­al un­der­stand­ing” between em­ploy­ees and man­age­ment that work­ers re­port for duty even when they are sick or in­jured.

Last week, Saitta joined a protest or­gan­ized by Ac­tion United out­side the Olive Garden res­taur­ant at 9280 Roosevelt Blvd.

Ac­tion United, which formed in 2010, is made up of low- and mod­er­ate-in­come Pennsylvani­ans. The group has or­gan­ized for eco­nom­ic justice, fair lend­ing prac­tices, good schools, a bet­ter en­vir­on­ment and af­ford­able health care.

The 11 pro­test­ers spent an hour one late af­ter­noon ral­ly­ing for paid time off for work­ers who are sick or have to care for an ail­ing fam­ily mem­ber.

By protest stand­ards, this one was pretty tame.

The pro­test­ers gathered on the side­walk and me­di­an of the Boulevard, not at the en­trance to the Itali­an res­taur­ant. They held signs with slo­gans prin­ted in Eng­lish and Span­ish.

Some passing mo­tor­ists honked in sup­port, though none of the signs men­tioned Olive Garden. At the re­quest of a couple of Olive Garden em­ploy­ees, the pro­test­ers even agreed to put away a sign that read, “No germs in my pasta.”

The vis­it­ors took turns us­ing a mega­phone to chant, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, cor­por­ate greed has got to go,” and “What do we want? Paid sick time. When do we want it? Now.”

“What do they want, bread­sticks?” joked an Olive Garden em­ploy­ee who walked out­side to ob­serve the com­mo­tion.
An Olive Garden man­ager re­ferred ques­tions to Or­lando, Fla.-based Darden Res­taur­ants Inc., par­ent of the res­taur­ant.

The com­pany is­sues the fol­low­ing state­ment: “We re­spect this group’s right to protest, however at Olive Garden and all Darden res­taur­ants we provide our em­ploy­ees with com­pet­it­ive be­ne­fits that are con­sist­ent with our peer group of com­pan­ies, in­clud­ing med­ic­al and dis­ab­il­ity cov­er­age. We also of­fer flex­ible schedul­ing so a sick em­ploy­ee can make up for lost hours when he or she is well, and through our em­ploy­ee as­sist­ance pro­gram em­ploy­ees can get fin­an­cial help if they or a loved one has an ex­ten­ded ill­ness. Our abil­ity to re­cruit and re­tain tal­ent in our res­taur­ants val­id­ates that we are provid­ing a total be­ne­fits pack­age that is com­pet­it­ive and sup­ports our de­sire to be an em­ploy­er of choice.” 

Darden has more than 1,900 res­taur­ants in North Amer­ica and em­ploys 180,000 people. Its an­nu­al sales are more than $7.5 bil­lion. Oth­er res­taur­ants that are part of the com­pany in­clude Red Lob­ster, Long­Horn Steak­house and Cap­it­al Grille.

Darden was in­cluded on For­tune magazine’s 2011 list of the 100 best com­pan­ies to work for, rank­ing 97th.

Olive Garden re­cently made some na­tion­al news. On April 19 at a res­taur­ant in In­di­ana­pol­is, a 10-year-old boy ordered a fruit-and-yogurt smooth­ie, only to be served a straw­berry dai­quiri that con­tained rum. He drank half the glass by the time the mis­take was real­ized.

As for the sick leave is­sue, May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter ve­toed a bill re­quir­ing Phil­adelphia busi­nesses with more than five em­ploy­ees to of­fer paid time off, based on hours worked. City Coun­cil passed a much weak­er bill re­quir­ing sick leave only for com­pan­ies that have gov­ern­ment con­tracts, and Nut­ter let it be­come law last Oc­to­ber without his sig­na­ture.

Ac­cord­ing to Ac­tion United, more than 200,000 work­ing Phil­adelphi­ans can­not take paid time off to get well or care for a sick fam­ily mem­ber. Or­gan­izers ar­gue that busi­nesses that al­low work­ers to earn paid time off for ill­ness have less turnover, lower hir­ing and train­ing costs and a health­i­er, more ded­ic­ated work force. Those work­ers also stay on the job and off pub­lic as­sist­ance.

About 36,000 Phil­adelphia work­ers in the food ser­vice and ac­com­mod­a­tion in­dustry don’t have earned sick days, so they are some­times hand­ling food and mak­ing beds while sick, said protest or­gan­izer Jas­mine Rivera of South Phil­adelphia.

Rivera also ex­plained that work­ers who’d like a day off to care for their sick chil­dren, but can­not af­ford to lose in­come, are send­ing those ill kids to school. She and oth­er pro­test­ers want City Coun­cil to pass a sick leave bill with a veto-proof ma­jor­ity to give cooks, serv­ers and oth­ers earned time off.

Coun­cil­man Bill Green­lee (D-at large) has been the lead pro­ponent of the le­gis­la­tion. Sup­port­ers point to a sim­il­ar law in San Fran­cisco that they say has been an all-around suc­cess.

Ora Jen­kins of North Phil­adelphia dis­missed claims from op­pon­ents of paid sick time that em­ploy­ees would ab­use it. She said the ab­sence of earned time off is mak­ing the rich rich­er and the poor poorer.

Jen­kins has worked full time in the health care field and en­joyed sick time be­ne­fits.

“It was a great be­ne­fit to me. It’s a need,” she said.

Rivera sees the is­sue as one of fair­ness, point­ing to the com­pany’s profits and ex­ec­ut­ive salar­ies.

“Olive garden is a chain. It’s a big com­pany,” she said. “Why can’t they give work­ers paid sick time?” ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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