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The week’s 5 head-spinning moments: Blame & shame edition

If the industry didn’t have an image problem already, it would after this week. The business was cited for everything from fighting progress to putting women at risk. Even fellow restaurateurs might’ve shaken their heads in disapproval of a few peers’ behavior. Why?

Who’d want their wife or daughter working there?

Women who work in restaurants are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted than their sisters in other industries, according to the latest slam of restaurants as a place to work. The terrifying factoid came from a familiar critic: the Restaurant Opportunities Center, the restaurant-worker advocacy group that also blasted restaurants this week for opposing Seattle’s new $15-an-hour wage and a change in the tip credit that governs servers’ pay. 

The gravity of that criticism is nothing compared with the assertion that female employees aren’t safe in restaurants. As ROC stressed, the data came from the Equal Employment Opportunity Office itself.

Indeed, the data did—years and years ago. ROC itself reported on the same information in 2012, yet it failed to mention that relevant fact in last week’s propaganda. Instead, it used the finding to suggest the industry’s opposition to an increase in the minimum wage for servers heightens the peril for women working in the business. Seventy percent of servers are women, dependent on tips, a ROC video points out. To earn the gratuities, an organization member argues on camera, they have to accept the harassment of customers.

Some might say it was a shameful use of a scare tactic to pursue a political end.

Who wants to get sick? 

Federal regulators also delivered a wallop in a report about norovirus, a microbe that brings on flu-like symptoms in most people but can be lethal for the aged or other high-risk populations. In case you missed it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed this week that most of the 1,008 norovirus outbreaks recorded from 2009 through 2012 were attributable to food contamination at a restaurant, catered event or banquet hall. In 70 percent of the instances, an employee transferred the pathogen to the food.

The agency noted that simple precautions discourage the spread of norovirus, like using utensils or gloves so workers’ hands don’t touch the food. The no-brainer: If an employee is sick, don’t let him or her near customers or the food. Yet 20 percent of foodservice workers say they’ve clocked into the job while afflicted with diarrhea or vomiting.

The CDC suggested that the adoption of paid sick leave policies would free an ill employee to stay home, which isn’t what the business wants to hear. Still, it’s tough to counter the suggestion as unfair or unwarranted.

Restaurants prefer a continued dependence on foreign oil

Why else would they have rallied in Illinois this week to discourage the production of ethanol, the renewable gasoline extender? Participants explained they were merely pushing back against sky-high food costs. With corn being used for ethanol instead of animal feed or food additives, supplies wheeled through restaurants’ back door come with a bill that’s hard to cover.  The protesters were merely trying to stay in business, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Still, let’s reconsider how this looked to industry outsiders, some of whom were reporters covering the push-back: Restaurants would rather leave the nation at the mercy of often hostile oil exporters than feel a crimp in their margins. Hmmm.

What are you, a bleeding liberal?

The industry as a whole would prefer that government at all levels kept its hands and red tape off business. Zero interference would mean no more time-eating paper work, no more backfiring legislation, no more of having the government as a not-so-passive partner.  So the most zealous proponents of laissez faire might’ve choked when they heard some colleagues in Philadelphia were lobbying the state legislature to pass new food regulations.

This week, restaurateurs held a  “dine-in” in the state Capitol to push for a law requiring food processors to flag items that contain genetically modified organisms, or products whose DNA  has been manipulated. Elsewhere, restaurants have opposed GMO disclosure requirements. Pennsylvania operators, to their credit, argued that consumers have a right to know what they’re eating, and to make their own judgments of what’s safe and what might be an environmental hazard. It was a brave move, but one that might draw them criticism from some in their own field.

Restaurants’ accommodation of devil-worshippers eats up too many parking spaces

Okay, I made that up. But the accusation is just as solidly based as some of the accusations that were leveled at the industry this week. I just need to dig up some old government data, maybe from the archives of Salem, Mass., to verify my point.

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