Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shots heard 'round the industry

Let it be noted that the restaurant industry made its stand not in the libertarian strongholds of Texas, Idaho or Maine, but in that cradle of social activism, the Bay Area. In case you missed Monday and Tuesday’s news reports, operators there are in open rebellion, having crossed the line between frustration and roaring outrage. Restaurateurs, unite! The revolution has started.

The flashpoint was San Francisco’s paid sick-leave proposal, a measure that will require operators there to provide an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours that an employee works. That equates roughly to paying for an extra hour of scheduled time, without the actual work, per employee per week. And the July 1 mandate will follow a hefty increase in the local minimum wage and staggering new health-insurance costs. The local industry decided enough was enough and that it was time to push back.

As was reported in this space Friday, restaurateurs have decided to fight back with a one-day lock-out of customers, without any warning, and possibly on a day when the city is packed with conventioneers. They want their hometown to get a taste of what life would be like without the economic engine of its restaurants.

Things have only worsened since then. When mayor Gavin Newsom met with locals about the new sick-leave measure, he was shouted down for much of the two-hour confab, The San Francisco Chronicle reported today. Demonstrators showed up in chicken outfits, apparently to make the point that the mayor is afraid to talk substantially about the mandate. “About every 10 minutes or so, [Gaven and his health-department director] were drowned out by shouting from the crowd,” the paper reported. “’Let the people speak!’ they chanted.”

The story continued, “’Nice dialogue and discussion!’ one of them told Newsom. ‘Thanks for letting us talk.’”

But that dust-up was only part of the backlash from the industry. Across the bay, in Oakland, the industry scored what may be its first victory in the fight over trans-fat bans. Oakland County commissioner Marcia Gershenson reportedly withdrew her proposal to ban the artery clogger’s use by restaurants because of lack of support from her legislative peers. They, in turn, cited indications from the county’s 4,400-member restaurant industry that the ban would raise their costs and prices and thereby hurt tourism. The industry’s argument had prevailed, a rare occurrence in the debates raging at all levels of government over trans-fat bans.

A pundit once said that trends start in California and roll east. Might a better metaphor for this week’s developments be a match set to tinder?


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