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Waffle House raises server pay following union-led pressure campaign

Meris Lutz, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Business News

Restaurant chain Waffle House recently announced pay raises for servers after more than a year of a public pressure campaign led by a union that represents service workers in the South.

The campaign included strikes and petitions calling attention to worker demands for higher pay, safer working conditions and an end to mandatory meal deductions taken out of employee paychecks, regardless of whether they eat at work.

Waffle House CEO Joe Rogers III, in a video sent to employees, called the new pay scale the “single largest additional investment” in the company’s workforce in its 68-year history. He said base pay will rise to at least $5.25 an hour for all locations by June 2026, with additional increases based on seniority and shift. He added that menu prices will increase to pay for the changes.

Waffle House declined to comment on the raises or answer questions about executive compensation at the private company, which is based in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross.

Organizers say they estimate 20,000 workers across approximately 2,000 locations would get the raises, including hundreds in Georgia, where the company was founded.

Katie Giede, an employee at a Waffle House in Conyers who went on strike, called the pay raises a step in the right direction. Giede said she currently makes $2.92 an hour in base pay and is unsure how much it will increase as the raises are rolled out in phases by location.

“Most of the people that work at Waffle Houses are single mothers or grandmothers — you know, people that are in the same situation as I am, trying to make ends meet from week to week or even day to day,” said Giede, who has a 5-year-old child. “Even if they’re closer to a livable wage, it’s a definite help.”

Giede said the problems facing workers at Waffle House are common throughout the food service industry. She said she’s worked at Waffle House on and off for 10 years and loves the camaraderie of her co-workers. She said she intends to continue pushing until all the workers’ demands are met.

 

Waffle House has not announced any changes to the meal deduction policy, which employees have asked the Department of Labor to review. The company also has not announced any actions in response to employee concerns over safety, especially at locations that stay open 24 hours and sometimes attract an unruly after-hours crowd.

In recent years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has covered a number of violent crimes at Waffle Houses. In February, a Waffle House employee in DeKalb County suffered non-life-threatening injuries when he was shot by a customer, according to police.

Dan Bowling, a former corporate attorney and now a visiting law professor at Georgia State University, said the pay raises represent a victory for what he calls “union-ish” organized action, even without a vote to formally unionize a single Waffle House.

Organizing service workers in chain restaurants is especially challenging because of the relatively high turnover and dispersed workforce, he said. But he pointed to the pressure campaign over 10 years ago on McDonald’s to raise hourly pay to $15 that succeeded in raising awareness and improving wages without unionizing.

“Waffle House in particular, I don’t know if they’ve gathered together a critical mass to form a union throughout the territory, but certainly they’re getting something done,” Bowling said.

Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said the success of the Waffle House workers’ campaign could inspire other service workers in the South.

“You start acting like a union before you have one,” Bronfenbrenner said. “The best way to make gains for these workers is to organize around issues.”


©2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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