Chances are good that you’ve never heard of Darden Restaurants. They don’t advertise under their name, but they are the food-service behemoth that owns popular eateries such as The Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. You’ve probably eaten at one of those restaurants more than once in your life and perhaps even enjoyed the food they serve. But how good would the food taste if you knew how the restaurant was exploiting their workers with the help of big banks?
Workers at restaurants owned by Darden are not paid by cash or check, like most of us. Instead, they are given prepaid debit cards. A quarter of workers who were surveyed by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) said they had repeatedly asked to be paid some other way and were told the debit cards are their only option.
Darden, you see, is trying to cut costs anywhere it can because the company is struggling financially, but their use of debit cards places a very expensive and unnecessary barrier between workers and the money they have earned through their labor. How so? Well, the cards come with a variety of fees for usage: 99 cents for using it to pay a utility bill, 50 cents if the card is ever declined at a cash register, $1.75 to withdraw money from an out-of-network ATM, and 75 cents just to check the card’s balance. And if a worker happens to lose the card, he or she will be forced to pay $10 to have it replaced.
But for Darden, the debit card scheme, which applies to half of the company’s 148,000 employees, saves the corporation as much as $5 million a year.
What banks are issuing these debit cards? Chase is one of the largest providers of such cards, which are also used by McDonald’s and other places that pay their employees so little that they also have to go on public assistance just to make ends meet. And that is then financed by the taxpayers, which is a gigantic source of corporate welfare for companies too cheap to pay their employees a living wage.
An overall evaluation of the pros and cons of the cards from the National Consumer Law Center in 2013 revolved around this one question: Worker choice. That same study found that the cards could be beneficial as long as everyone has the chance to opt for a different mode of payment. But Darden Restaurant employees — along with millions of others across the United States — don’t have that opportunity. Meanwhile, Darden and the banks get richer.
When they aren’t ripping off workers, the big banks are exploiting people and forcing them to lose their homes, as you can see in this report: