Union group accuses the National Restaurant Association of putting kids at risk

One Fair Wage and a Union says the association has undercut the safety of teen workers by lobbying for a loosening of child-labor laws. The charge was levied on the eve of the NRA's annual convention.
One Fair Wage says the group is fostering the exploitation of young workers. / Photo: Shutterstock

The union-backed group pushing to kill the tip credit has veered from that mission to accuse the National Restaurant Association of fostering the exploitation of children in the workplace.

One Fair Wage and a Union says the trade association has lobbied aggressively to weaken regulations that prohibit teens from serving alcohol or working past a certain hour—usually 7 p.m.—on a night preceding a school day. 

It also accuses the group of pushing to end requirements that young teens obtain work permits before looking for a job. The certification process typically verifies that the youths’ parents and schools are okay with the youngsters taking a position.

The accusations follow efforts in at least 10 states to ease restrictions on how many hours teenage workers can log on a weekly or nightly basis. At least a few also call for ending the work-certification process.

Iowa passed legislation that permits 16 and 17-year-olds to serve but not take orders for alcoholic beverages. Tennessee allows minors of those ages to work in establishments where at least 25% of the revenues are generated from alcohol sales.

The states have acted to ease the restrictions in attempts to deepen what employers say is a too-shallow labor pool. With unemployment under 4%, many businesses say they’re unable to find job candidates. Restaurants, the private sector’s second largest employer, is often leading that chorus.

The report issued by One Fair Wage cited findings that 64% of child-labor-law violations involve a restaurant as the employer.

“The National Restaurant Association is facing the prospect of its members having to pay workers livable wages, and it’s running out of options,” Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage, said in a statement. “One response is to demand that minors work longer hours with fewer protections.”

The group leveled its accusations on the eve of the annual National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, which is owned and managed by Winsight, also parent of Restaurant Business.  One Fair Wage is planning a demonstration in concert with Fight for $15, another union-backed group, outside the event on Monday. 

One Fair Wage receives at least part of its funding from Restaurant Opportunity Centers, a group that promotes the education of employees while issuing research that paints tipping as an convention that fosters sexual harassment and employee abuse. It, in turn, is backed by the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, the nation’s second largest union.

The charge of pushing for less-protective child-labor regulations is the latest accusation the group has leveled at the NRA. Starting in January, it has harped on a story in The New York Times that alleged the association was duping restaurant workers by requiring them to be certified in food safety.  

Often, the article said, the chosen course was the NRA’s ServSafe program, which it markets for $15 per enrollee. The funds are then used by the association to lobby for pro-employer and anti-worker legislation and regulatory changes, according to the Times piece and One Fair Wage.

“We call on restaurant owners, workers, customers and lawmakers to reject the exploitative tactics of the ‘other NRA’ and rally around the urgent need to raise the minimum wage and end the subminimum wage for tipped workers, so that all workers receive at least the full minimum wage with tips on top,” Jayaraman said in the statement.

The NRA did not comment on the One Fair Wage allegations.



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