Philly Restaurants That Actually Care About Their Employees

Cross-posted from Keystone Politics.

Yesterday the Philly chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Center held a release party for their 2013 National Guide to Ethical Eating (and, yes, there’s an app for that). The event was held at Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom, and the titular owner is featured prominently in the guide.  The guide rates restaurants, bars, and coffee shops based on a rocunitedlogo-2db2df-150px-1range of criteria, including paid sick leave, allowing room for advancement, paying at least $9 an hour to non-tipped employees and at least $5 an hour to tipped workers (national tipped minimum wage is $2.13 an hour). The fifth criteria is a seat at ROC’s Restaurant Industry Roundtable: “a group of employers working to promote the high road to profitability in the industry.”

Chains are included and are uniformly terrible. For example: Jimmy Johns, unsurprisingly, fails on every level. *Some* local restaurants stand out in the guide as good citizens, although it should be noted that certain franchises in certain cities may have better standards. In D.C., Five Guy’s Burgers offers paid sick leave to their employees, not so much in Philly. Shake Shack in NYC woks with ROC, offers room for advancement, pays above minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers, and offers paid sick leave. To the best of my knowledge, the new Shake Shack in Philly does not. That’s why cities should set their own minimum wages and pass universal paid sick leave legislation: Without outside pressure a substantial majority of business owners will not take care of their employees.

Philly’s ROC chapter is only a year and change old, so this is our first year participating and a handful of the city’s restaurants made the cut. But before I get into that, a few words about ROC, an organization that is trying to apply some of the pressure needed to change the industry (although not necessarily in an adversarial fashion).  ROC is a workers’ center, a dues-based ($5 a month) membership organization that operates along a three-pronged operational model.

1. They organize direct action and protest campaigns against the worst employers, those who steal wages and use unsafe labor and consumer practices. They haven’t done this in Philly yet to my knowledge.

3. They work with “high-road” restaurant owners. ROC trains restaurant workers in high end food service work so employers don’t have to worry about a steep learning curve when they bring on new workers. In exchange they that employers provide more than the tipped minimum wage, paid sick leave, and room for advancement within the company and so on. Usually they don’t get all of those from any on employer, although they do at times. This is meant to lower turnover, as workers will have moire incentive to stay with the business longer.

3. They pressure lawmakers to pass laws that would civilize the food service sector. They usually have the most influence at the city level. ROC was instrumental in getting Jim Kenney’s gratuity protection bill signed into law and they are currently fighting for the paid sick leave bill. Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. attended the ROC event on Wednesday and declared that the bill would be reintroduced in late January, 2013. (Kenney’s vote is expected to be decisive.)

The Philly restaurants that earned commendations in ROC’s ethical dining guide are below the cut.

  • But the real standouts are London Grill, on 2301 Fairmount Avenue, which meets every standard that ROC’s guide sets.
  •  As does Lil’ Pop Shop, 266 44th Street in West Philly, an artisanal popsicle shop that stays open in the winter time and provides me with Earl Gray flavored frozen treats. (I may be biased here.) At a previous ROC event I saw the owner of the latter, Jeanne Chang, say that she wanted to run a food service business where she would feel good about her kids working. Mission accomplished.
  • Clearly, Fergie’s works with ROC (more on what that means below) and pays its tipped staffers at least $5 an hour, but no paid sick leave is offered.
  • The Belgian Cafe in Fairmount does the exact same thing presumably because it is also owned by Fergus Carey. In fact all of the establishments where Carey has a hand participate in ROC’s program and pay their waiters and bartenders well over two times the tipped minimum wage. Nodding Head, Grace Tavern, and Monks (in South Philly) are all owned by Carey (who chose Philly over Houston decades ago because it is easier to get around in a dense, bike-friendly city).  Again, no paid sick leave is offered at any of these establishments.
  • Outside of Carey’s domain, Fairmount’s Fare promotes more than half of its employees internally and pays at least $9 an hour, giving workers an opportunity to advance in the industry while making more than minimum wage.
  • Tequilas pays its back-of-the-house staff and its tipped staff more than their respective minimum wages.
  • Center City burrito joints El Fuego are not in the guide this year, but ROC organizers tell me it’s because the owner didn’t end up filling out the survey due to a family emergency. As of last year’s guide, they started their employees at significantly above the minimum wage and offered paid sick leave.
  • The outlier here appears to be Bliss, on Broad Street, which is apparently a member of ROC’s high road business roundtable but does not actually provide their employees any of the other good stuff listed in the guide. Another argument for broad based laws, rather than shop-by-shop organizing? Or perhaps ROC just needs more time to work on them?
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