“Dignity at Darden” Campaign Leaders Respond To Starboard’s Meeting Proposal, Await Details

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New York, NY — A representative from Starboard Value, an activist hedge fund seeking a full take-over of Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE:DRI)’s Board of Directors, emailed a current Olive Garden employee and a “Dignity at Darden” leader, Steve Gazzo, offering to set up a meeting between Gazzo, a small number of “Dignity at Darden” leaders and Starboard’s leadership.

In his response to the Starboard representative last Friday, Gazzo, a ROC United member who started the Darden: We Want a Seat at the Table petition (which currently has more than 7,000 signatures) said he and fellow “Dignity At Darden” leaders are interested in meeting and have requested the support of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United in coordinating details as the process moves forward.

Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE:DRI) workers are currently awaiting a response from Starboard Value. No such offer to meet and hear employees’ concerns has been proffered by Darden Restaurants Inc. management.

Last week Darden employees announced, in response to Starboard’s 300 page “Future of Olive Garden” presentation that proposed franchising out the company, increasing part-time scheduling, and thousands of lay-offs, that they are ready to take direct action ahead of Darden’s annual shareholder’s meeting this October.

Starboard later issued a press release to shareholders in which they claim to “stand ready, willing, and able to work with Darden’s dedicated employees to create substantial value for the benefit of all shareholders.”

Darden: We Want a Seat at the Table tells the following story

As an Olive Garden employee, I know that there is a lot that its parent company, Darden Restaurants, can do to make it a better place for employees. As a starting point, I want the leadership of Starboard Value, a hedge fund taking an increasing amount of control over the company, to meet with employees like me and listen to our concerns.

Why is this important?

Having worked at restaurants for 15 years — including at the Olive Garden for six years — I know the industry well. Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants, can do a lot more to make its restaurants better places to work, but first they need to listen to their employees.

For example, in January, the company got rid of automatic gratuity for large parties. It might not seem like much, but when a large party takes up a lot of your shift, those tips make a big difference. Managers told us it was for legal reasons, but I later learned it was because Darden wanted to save a little money on its taxes. I wish the company would’ve first considered the impact on its servers. We depend on those tips to pay our bills.

Another issue is what I call “stuttering breaks.” We are told to take a 30 minute break, then asked to wait another hour before returning to work — all of it off the clock. This seems like a terrible way to run a business, and it takes its toll on staff. How can we make a living when we’re not sure how many hours we’ll work from week to week?

In six years of working at Olive Garden, I’ve noticed that it’s getting harder and harder for employees to make ends meet.  I’ve had to move back in with my parents in order to afford to finish my college degree in software engineering. I can’t imagine how my coworkers with kids — coworkers who I care deeply about and spend much of my time with — are able to make it.

See the full petition, Darden: We Want a Seat at the Table here: https://www.coworker.org/petitions/darden-we-want-a-seat-at-the-table

About Saru Jayaraman

Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate, Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News), ROC United has grown to over 13,000 members across 26 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.

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