At a time when Americans are collectively sending more emotional support to the nation’s desperately deteriorating restaurant industry than perhaps at any other time in its history, the association that purports to represent a wide variety of its interests received some damning condemnation Friday. In a special coronavirus edition of its annual “Dirty Dozen” report, The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) advocacy group for worker health and safety names the National Restaurant Association (NRA) to its list of companies and trade associations that “have failed to protect workers against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as preventable hazards across a range of industries and occupations.”
Singling the NRA out among its top 12 offenders, National COSH accuses the NRA of waging an ongoing war against paid sick leave (PSL) for restaurant employees. That’s even as COVID-19 rages through the ranks of workers, who, lacking paid leave, often report to work even when they suspect they might have the virus.
“A key method to slow the deadly coronavirus is for those who become sick to stay home to prevent the spread of infection,” reads the National COSH report. “This life-saving strategy is difficult to implement in the United States, the only developed country in the world that does not provide paid sick leave for all workers. Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries? One reason is a years-long lobbying effort by the National Restaurant Association.”
The NRA did not respond to an emailed request for a comment.
Four out of five American food service workers have no PSL, according to a mid-March Public Radio International (PRI) interview with Dr. Jody Heymann, founding director of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center and dean of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.
“If you don’t have sick leave, you’re twice as likely to send your child to school or daycare sick. You’re 1 1/2 times as likely, even when you feel sick yourself and are contagious, to go to work sick,” she said.
On March 14, the U.S. House of Representatives required employers with fewer than 500 employees to offer employees who may have COVID-19 a certain number of paid sick days off in exchange for a tax credit on those wages. The NRA wrote a position paper that argued the provisions would have “significant impacts on employers’ ability to maintain or resume operations.”
The paper reads, “We urge federal policymakers to adjust the paid leave compensation mechanisms to ensure small businesses are not forced to meet new federal mandates during a period when their own cash reserves are severely strained amid declining sales revenue.”
In the same two-page document, the association brags that it represents 15.1 million employees, or almost 10% of the country’s workforce.
In lobbying for federal relief in March, the NRA sent a letter to President Trump and Congressional leaders asking for a dozen provisions to help mitigate the disastrous economic situation social distancing measures are imposing on eateries. Merely two mentioned employee welfare: an emergency business loan program to be forgiven if “the employer keeps its workers on the payroll without reducing their pay, including workers self-quarantining or on paid sick-leave”; the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), “which has been utilized to protect employees and employers during similar emergency situations.”
National COSH says 80% of restaurant workers failed to be covered because companies with more than 500 employees per location didn’t qualify for the Small Business Association loan and those with fewer than 50 employees could request an exemption to the provision.
The government granted both requests. However, as the media has reported, the Payroll Protection Program rapidly ran out of money. That’s after banks reportedly violated the rules by favoring large borrowers with outside access to capital, several of whom succumbed to public outrage and returned the funds.
When the Washington Post asked NRA spokesperson Sean Kennedy what the organization was doing to help current food-service employees, independent of their business-owner bosses, Kennedy issued a statement in time for a March 13 article that reads, “We are currently talking with our members and elected officials about how to help restaurants and their employees address these issues like paid leave and other policies that help workers who need time to recover.”
The NRA seems to have publicly softened its tone of late. But that doesn’t preclude its previous actions and statements.
Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH, emails, “Recent NRA statements about paid sick leave may be ‘subtle’ to avoid accountability. Their overall record, however, is anything but: The NRA and its affiliates have fought every serious effort to provide paid sick leave for restaurant workers and others, going back many years, even when such measures enjoy broad popular support. Their success in limiting these measures in the past is the reason so many people are vulnerable now.”
In a 2014 article headlined, “Paid Sick Leave Laws Spread Like the Flu,” Scott DeFife, then-NRA executive vice president of policy and government affairs, told its trade ‘Restaurant Business’ magazine in response to a flurry of municipal workers-rights bills without citing any statistics that, “Most restaurants offer some form of paid leave … but it’s a significant cost.”
On top of called-for minimum wage increases and health care requirements, he said, PSL could pressure labor costs to rise from one third of a restaurant dollar to one half.
According to the Economic Policy Institute think tank, about half of states have passed “pre-emption laws” that forbid municipalities from passing their own PSL laws. This means that in places like Louisiana and Georgia that have no state-wide PSL laws, localities can’t pass their own. National COSH blames the NRA’s lobbying for this and other efforts to undermine the passage of these kinds of pro-labor laws.
In 2018, the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association took credit for convincing state lawmakers not to put a PSL question on the ballot.
And in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association sued the city of Pittsburgh in 2015 to stop a municipal paid sick leave law from moving forward, even after PRLA representatives worked with City Council to make the bill more favorable to its members’ interests. Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that Pittsburgh could, indeed, enact the PSL requirement, and it took effect this past March.
At the time, a PRLA spokesperson called the ruling, “very disappointing.”
The association declined to comment for this article.
Horacio Ruiz, a server at the Capital Grille in Pittsburgh and a member of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) non-profit advocacy organization for restaurant workers, sees it differently.
“If the restaurant owners didn’t fight us for so long,” he says in a statement, “workers in Pittsburgh would have had more paid sick leave credit when this pandemic began.”
Source: Thanks https://www.forbes.com/sites/taranurin/2020/04/25/the-national-restaurant-association-still-doesnt-want-to-pay-sick-workers-to-stay-home/