Applebee's Workers Are Protesting Over Alleged Labor Law Violations

If you've ever worked back-of-house at a fast-casual spot or even a full-service restaurant, then you know that restaurant work is some of the most highly demanding — and yet lowest-paid — work out there. According to a 2014 report from the Economic Policy Institute, "by and large, the industry consists of very low-wage jobs with few benefits, and many restaurant workers live in poverty or near-poverty."

When you factor in the COVID-19 pandemic, the picture for restaurant workers in the United States looks even grimmer, with 2.5 million having lost their jobs in the sector in 2020 alone — wiping away six years of growth in just 12 months, according to CNBC. Recovery from the pandemic in 2021 completely redefined the job market in retail and hospitality, and a stunning development that's been named "the Great Resignation" occurred — more than 40 million workers in those sectors voluntarily left their jobs to seek better-paid, more humane ones in fields such as tech sales and law administration (via The New York Times).

On the heels of this wave-making reshuffling of restaurant workers, employees at Applebee's are protesting the chain's poor wages, specifically for how much lower they are for non-white employees. 

Applebee's workers are protesting labor law violations

According to a press release, Applebee's workers are protesting today in Brooklyn, New York, and Chicago, Illinois. These protests come after a news-making email from March 9, 2022, penned by Applebee's franchise locations owner Wayne Pankrantz leaked, first to Reddit and then to other outlets. The email opines that rising gas prices and record inflation were great news for Applebee's restaurants, as difficult conditions could force workers to take low-paying jobs within the company. According to Complex, the letter circulated, Pankrantz was fired, and four of six managers at a Lawrence, Kansas, Applebee's quit out of protest.

The controversy tipped off scrutiny of the company's wages policies, eventually prompting more than 30 current and former Applebee's workers to pen a letter to the restaurant's CEO and Board of Directors demanding wage increases and the settling of legal claims by employees who allege they were fired as a result of speaking out against labor violations

"Applebee's has always offered among the lowest wages in the industry for both back-of-house and front-of-house staff members," the letter reads. "The subminimum wage for tipped workers" — a common restaurant payment policy in the U.S. that has been widely criticized (via Washington Center for Equitable Growth) — "is a direct legacy of slavery and has been a source of poverty, racial inequity, and sexual harassment for tipped workers at Applebee's for decades."

Protesting workers are being represented by the national nonprofit One Fair Wage

After former and current Applebee's workers hand-delivered the letter at various restaurant locations last week, workers at the chain are following up today with in-person protests, according to the press release. Protesting workers are represented by the national nonprofit One Fair Wage, which published a shocking report earlier this year demonstrating how Applebee's locations in New York raised wages for workers in predominantly white communities while keeping pay low for staff in predominantly non-white communities.

Color of Change, the nation's largest online racial justice organization, is also supporting Applebee's protesters after reviewing additional One Fair Wage reports showing the sharp gap between wages for Applebee's locations in communities that are predominantly white versus non-white. States like Utah and Nebraska pay up to $20 per hour plus tips, whereas those in Black communities such as Birmingham and Chicago continue to offer solely the incredibly low subminimum rate of $2.13 per hour for tipped workers. 

Color of Change's Vice President Jade Magnus Ogunnaike address it well in the statement sent to Tasting Table, "Color Of Change is proud to partner with One Fair Wage to demand that Applebee's set a national policy of paying all workers in the company a full, livable minimum wage in addition to tips."