Saturday, November 24, 2012

Untangling Chains

I've read through yards of comments, this week, relating to articles about the rash of CEOs in the catering or restaurant business whose hackles have been well and truly raised at the prospect of the Affordable Care Act's mandate that they must, if their staff numbers reach a certain level, provide health care insurance cover for full-time employees. A common response from commenters is something which, after a while, began to strike me as tiresomely smug and self-righteous: e.g. "We never, and have never eaten, (alternatively will not in future eat) at Applebee's, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Denny's, Dairy Queen, Papa John's....." the lists go on. These people obviously must live in urban areas where choice abounds. Usually there are added remarks about the quality of food in the named establishments, words such as "garbage" "swill" appear. The usual internet hyperbole!

Whereas I do fully understand the principle and value (in some cases) of boycott, and acknowledge that people are free to choose their eating places, for taste or other reasons, it does seem kind of counter-productive to boycott all chain restaurants if the main reason for doing so relies on the inhumanity of their CEOs. All that's likely to happen, should boycotts become widespread, is that even more jobs will be lost, more people will become unemployed. It's unlikely that small cafés would suddenly spring up to take up the slack and offer jobs in small local establishments, whose owners would not be required to provide health insurance anyway!

Here's an idea: if a person decides to dine in one of the offending eateries, where the chain is not conducting itself well regarding matters mentioned above, why not carry a personal, signed letter addressed to the Manager or Area Manager, expressing concern at the attitude of their company on the matter of health care insurance provision? Withering remarks could be backed up with a link to an on-line article. Ask that the letter, delivered locally by hand, be copied to the company CEO.

The type of food most chain restaurants dish up is not to the taste of everyone. Some of it is certainly not to my own taste, but most of it, especially in the non-fast food places, couldn't, in all fairness, be categorised as "swill" or "garbage". Unimaginative - perhaps! Some of it is unhealthy too, but then, so is some food served in local, privately-run diners. We frequent chain eateries in the course of our road trips, we have a few favourite venues; a few we routinely avoid when possible, too, for reason of our own tastes.

There are certain advantages to chain eateries. 1: Consistency. You know exactly what you're going to get when you order a certain item - wherever you are in the vastness of the USA. Some might consider that not to be a good thing - but it does have advantages. 2: In most states you can be reliably assured that high standards of cleanliness in food preparation and proper storage are fully adhered to in chain establishments. In independently owned businesses, one cannot always be as confident on this score - if you've ever watched TV's Restaurant Impossible
you'll not need convincing!

Another post of mine about the injustices restaurant staff must endure is HERE.


mike said...

It seems that virtually all aspects of food labor have been historically ignored by the US Labor Department. Agricultural labor, whether for produce, grains, or meat, have long fought for decent wages and benefits. As you indicate here and your previous post, restaurant employees are in the same predicament, but at least they might receive a free or discounted meal per shift, and the obligatory tips probably up their pay higher than the ag workers.

I'm schizophrenic regarding restaurants...too many of my acquaintances over the years have been restaurant staff and have provided interesting stories regarding the dark side of the prepared food biz. Many hygienic standards are wont for improvement, be it from the management's procedures or down to the individual preparer's or server's interpretation of sanitary. I rarely eat out!

I agree that it is better to bring an awareness to management's attention and by-pass the server's finances. However, I suspect the reason some of the latest CEOs backtracking their remarks is due to those very unbecoming comments that you reference. Restaurants are a business and the way to make a business take notice is through profits...taking one's business elsewhere is an active threat.

I have to ponder how many of the comments you read were perhaps written by disgruntled employees of that restaurant, disguised as customers!

Your commentary here can really be applied to most industries. Look at the Walmart strike...some of the same ideologies. Businesses have long been using part-time employees in an effort to bring-down costs by not providing benefits.

Wisewebwoman said...

Not to mention that us customers of restaurants have to supplement the wages of the staff via gratuities!

Here in Newfoundland, the food and health department have made public every single restaurant inspection. Hallelujah I say. At least we can be sure of the sanitation practices.

We, the consumers, are caught on the horns of a dilemma with regard to patronising the most abusive of the giants.

I personally don't do chains, whilst sympathizing with their downtrodden workers.

It is difficult. but we are all culpable in this world we have created.


Twilight said...

mike ~~ Hmmm - I didn't know about the agricultural workers here being poorly paid also.

Unions are missing or weakened to the point of being ineffectual - that's the hub of the whole problem, isn't it? Same applies to Walmart staff, and I'm so glad to see them uniting against the injustice, even without Union backing, and in the process raising awareness all round. More and more of this type of activity is essential if anything is ever going to to change for the better here.

You could be exactly right about the worst of the comments I mentioned, Mike. When reading anything on the net, there's always a danger of being misled - particularly on comment threads such as those. As you say, the negative reaction of commenters could well have accounted for the quick walk-back of remarks and intentions by some CEOs.

I've known a lot of folk involved in the food trade through the course of my life, too - including my parents who ran their own small bakery and shop in Yorkshire; later in life Dad worked in a big hotel as pastry chef. I was married (disastrously) and briefly in my youth to a head waiter, did a stint of working in hotel offices for several years - with easy access to kitchen and restaurants there.
Back then, in the UK, things were not nearly as bad for staff. In the UK the National Health Service - often maligned by natives, but brilliant compared to the travesty that is health insurance industry here, forms a universal safety net for all.

Also in the UK Employment Laws are probably a tad more stringent than in the USA. I worked for 24 years in the admin dept. of the Employment Tribunal Service, so have personal experience of how employment complaints were handled.

Overall, it's lack of union strength that is at root of many problems here. It'll return - in some form - balance demands it. Nature requires balance. :-)

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ Gratuities of 15% to 20% are a definite requirement in the USA, yes.

Good for Newfoundland authorities - that's a step in the right direction, health-wise.

I have nothing against most restaurant chains, apart from the way the staff are treated by management. In this, middle, "flyover" area of the US nice privately owned places are few and far between. We do the best with what we've got, I guess. We don't eat out a lot unless out of town, away from home on a trip, or for a celebration meal with family members, occasionally.

I guess the people are culpable, WWW up to a point - mainly for not being aware and watchful of what was and is going on right under their noses for so long. Now it's late in the day, the corporations and oligarchs have gained great strength and power, more than the people can easily stand up against. Not stand against easily anyway - but, if nothing changes for the better, stand up they will. Depend on it!

Twilight said...

Don't know why silly Blogger leaves big gaps under comments sometimes.
Danged new interface, I suppose.

LB said...

Elitist comments aside, like you, I can understand why well-meaning people might want to boycott under certain conditions, although I think the bigger issue here is that under the President's plan many Americans will continue to remain without affordable access to health care.

With insurance costs so high (much higher than they were 20 or 30 years ago), I also worry that many of the employers who do comply with the insurance mandate will find reasons to lay off, cut hours of, or fail to hire *older* employees because the premiums to insure them are generally higher. Insurance is and will remain *very* expensive.

Talk-show host and comedian Jon Stewart pointed out during one his recent shows, that none of these businesses would have had to worry had the President fought for a Single-Payer system, which I continue to support. I would encourage others who are understandably concerned and frustrated by the reality of continuing disparities under the Affordable Care Act to investigate and consider doing the same.

Twilight said...

LB ~ Hi there!
Oh yes - couldn't agree more, LB, with every word!!

I guess (hope) the President started out with good intention, and was either hi-jacked by the insurance corporations or lacked the determination to fight for what most people thought he had promised to do regarding health care reform.

Whether it's too late now for any kind of reversal remains to be seen. Several states, including our own (OK) are refusing to be bound by the ACA in certain respects. Allowing states such options is another bad fault in the new system. The Oklahoma Policy Institute has estimated Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision could leave approximately 150,000 low-income Oklahoma residents without health insurance.

mike (again) said...

Regarding LB's comment:
Congress created the law, Obama signed it. It's difficult to remember the tumult of the initial phases of health care discussion occurring in 2009 onward. Single-payer, expansion of Medicare, was vehemently rejected as a form of socialist reform, primarily by the GOP side. Money talks loudly to our elected representatives and the lobbyists for the insurance, pharmaceutical, and related health industries screamed to our representatives. The ploy that the elimination of the insurance industry would have increased unemployment was another factor. See for a discussion of the single-pay history, which is the predecessor of the ACA.

I think that Obama negotiated very well to reform what he did, though I agree that it leaves much to be desired. Each state can expand on the ACA and initiate a single-payer system, if desired, such as Vermont is doing now. As Twilight expresses about her state, I live in Texas, which has one of the highest rate of under- and un-insured. Our Governor Rick Perry is determined to keep these people without insurance coverage by being completely non-compliant with the ACA.

The ACA may prove to be a viable act, but I doubt it. I wholly support the single-payer system and I encourage everyone to let their state and federal representatives know their thoughts. I suspect that in states like I live, I could file a law suit against the state for denying my federal rights.

LB said...

Hi Twilight!

Don't know about reversals or what to expect in the coming days and years as the ACA is implemented, although I continue to 'dream the impossible dream' by hoping someday our country will embrace the idea of healthcare for all in the form of Expanded and Improved Medicare For All. As unlikely as it may be, it's still not a good enough reason for me not to try.

Estimates vary, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, some 30 million Americans (not including the elderly) will be left without insurance under the ACA. And these figures don't include all those who will remain significantly under-insured because of cost.

On a separate but related subject (that of the fiscal budget), if proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security go through, even more Americans may soon be affected.

I agree with Mike, "money talks loudly to our elected representatives . . ." and also that we can provide a necessary counter influence by letting our elected representatives know where we stand on the issues, by phoning, emailing and writing letters as constituents of our particular representatives' districts - politely, of course.:) Our calls can have an effect.

Twilight said...

mike and LB ~~ We can only attempt to keep a positive frame of mind amid gloomy predictions. It's not easy!

If the Citizens United decision of SCOTUS could be re-questioned, re-opened, appealed - I don't know whether there's any recourse at all - but if it could be be subject to at least some limitations on money flowing from corporations to elections and politics in general, a lot of what's so badly wrong would have better chance of improvement.

I did try writing to our senators during the health care debates in 2009. Received a standard form letter back - my points were not addressed- I felt nobody had even read my letter other than perhaps the first few lines to determine which standard letter to bundle back in the mail. :-( Our senators are Tom Coburn (Dr. No) and James Inhofe ("climate change is a hoax").
Could hardly have 2 worse!

I've also written more than once to our local newspaper, but my letters are neither published nor acknowledged.

So I have fallen into simply ranting occasionally here. It's a way of letting off steam.

Thanks, both Mike and LB for your input on this.

James Higham said...

why not carry a personal, signed letter addressed to the Manager or Area Manager

Because that involves people making an effort, whereas boycotting is the work of a moment.

Twilight said...

James Higham ~~ True enough! We can't expect anyone to make too much of an effort on behalf of "other", can we?