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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hanna Raskin reveals illegal labor practices in Charleston’s food and beverage community

Laboring the Point

Posted by Kinsey Gidick on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 4:53 PM

Today Hanna Raskin of the Post & Courier released an excellent investigative article on labor law violations within the local restaurant community. The article is timely given the lawsuits facing Hyman’s and Kickin’ Chicken, the former for alleged violations against the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the latter for allegedly forcing servers to share tips with the kitchen staff and not paying overtime.

The piece focuses on 34 area restaurants that have been cited in the past 10 years, cumulatively shorting changing staffers $388,067.00.

Some of the names may surprise you. They run the full gamut of Lowcountry offerings, from The Macintosh to Noisy Oyster.

For whatever reason, the article only gives a few examples of the individual violations such as adjusting time cards, not paying out proper tips, and withholding overtime pay. While we’re sure many restaurateurs wouldn’t return Raskin’s call to speak about the story — for obvious reasons — it does seem odd that the focus of the piece revolves around interviews with fine dining members when the majority of those cited would be considered casual eateries, specifically, Charleston Hospitality Group (Eli’s Table, Toast, Whisk, Tabbuli, and Queology), a moderately priced restaurant organization. Charleston Hospitality Group was given 233 citations in 2013. In contrast, Indigo Road’s Macintosh and O-Ku collectively had 91 violations in 2012 and 2013.

Raskin interviewed Steve Palmer, Indigo Road’s managing partner and David Howard, president of Neighborhood Dining Group (McCrady’s, Husk, Minero). Palmer spoke of being petrified by the audit but takes responsibility for his company’s errors. Howard’s restaurant’s were audited last year. The details of that Department of Labor investigation haven’t been released yet as the case is still open. There’s no mention in the story, however, of Mt. Pleasant’s Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant which was ordered to pay $97,355.96 in back wages in 2013 or Ashley River Road’s Senor Tequila with a staggering $106,103.05 in 2010.

In keeping with the fine dining focus, Raskin’s mention of staging — essentially an unpaid internship at a restaurant — as an argument for “a culture that prizes unpaid work” is a great point. But given the list of local FSLA violators, it doesn’t seem as relevant. When was the last time you heard of a chef hoping to stage at Huddle House? Or Baroni’s Pizza? Or Tasty Wok? Which is to say, while the fine dining branch of the city’s food scene is undeniably a huge one, by our count 22 of the 34 restaurants listed do not fall under that category.

But perhaps enough ink has been used on the plight of casual and fast food workers fighting for higher wages. Or maybe the P&C believes its food section readers are simply more interested in the fine dining sector as the story closes with this:

“While worker wage issues in the fast-food sector have lately received the most media attention, Pastor Thomas Dixon of the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment’s Charleston chapter believes chefs who work with guar gum and caviar deserve the same protections as fry cooks. “When you have rent, gas and children, you should expect a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work,” he says.”

Restaurant labor violators over the past decade:

Al Di La
Athens Restaurant
Baroni’s Pizza
Bighorn’s Sports Grill
Boulevard Diner
Chez Fish
Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse
Eli’s Table
Fire Street Food
Gaulart and Maliclet (Fast & French)
Graze
Huddle House
La Hacienda
Nathan’s Deli
Noisy Oyster
North Towne Grill and Seafood
O-Ku
Red Pepper
Rendezvous Sports Bar and Grill
Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant
Senor Tequila
Snapper Jack’s
Tabbuli
Tasty Wok
The Blind Tiger
The Macintosh
The Wreckfish
Toast
West Ashley Crab Shack
Whisk
Wings 

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