The Mandatory Restaurant Training That's Funded Low Wage Lobbying Efforts

If you've worked in the food service industry, the name "ServSafe" may sound familiar (and likely a little unwelcome). ServSafe is the National Restaurant Association (NRA)'s online food safety training program that has become an unofficial industry standard. The reason for ServSafe's unyielding popularity, however, isn't that it's a great platform for restaurant purveyors and employees to learn. Instead, ServSafe has cemented a controversial position in the food service industry because some states have made it mandatory — at the prompting of the NRA, explains The New York Times

Today, California, Florida, Texas, and Illinois require ServSafe. But the catch is: ServSafe isn't free; Restaurant workers themselves have to pay the NRA about $15 a pop to use ServSafe training, which they are required to complete in order to have a job. 

The NRA has been a longtime adversary of what many view as fundamental workers' rights, like paid sick leave and fair minimum wages (In 2020, Forbes reported that the NRA opposed paid sick leave for food service workers at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic). And for many bartenders and servers, the tipped federal minimum wage remains at $2.13, where it's been since 1991. In New York, that isn't even enough to buy a single tank of gas.

ServSafe dishes up financial exploitation for underpaid workers

It has been the NRA's vocal stance since at least the 1960s that raising employee wages could put restaurants out of business. Indeed, the same argument is currently being raised against Sacramento fast food workers who have organized to request greater benefits to offset the standard of living in the state of California — one of the priciest in the nation, per Yet, per the New York Times, the NRA has raked in an estimated $25 million from 3.6 million restaurant workers paying for ServSafe since 2010. In 2022 alone, the NRA spent $2.1 billion backing political candidates, according to OpenSecrets. Critics might wonder why these seemingly surplus funds weren't allocated toward restaurant aid instead, like the $83 million provided to eating establishments by the U.S. Small Business Association in November 2022 as an emergency measure (via Restaurant Business News).

On Twitter, More Perfect Union shared details of the New York Times article and comments from overworked, underpaid laborers flooded in. "The corporations are taking our money to keep us poor, literally," one person wrote. Other commenters mentioned having to complete ServSafe training as part of their education at culinary institutions. Senator Bernie Sanders also took to Twitter to voice his support of the working class: "Shock of shocks! Corporate lobbyists aren't just fighting to stop a living wage. They're also taking workers' wages to pad their own pockets and protect their wealth. Outrageous," he wrote.