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Fascinating story from the New York Times detailing how when many workers start jobs in the restaurant business, they are required to "pay around $15 to a company called ServSafe for an online class in food safety."

What they don't know - or at least, didn't know until now - is that ServSafe "doubles as a fund-raising arm of the National Restaurant Association — the largest lobbying group for the food-service industry, claiming to represent more than 500,000 restaurant businesses. The association has spent decades fighting increases to the minimum wage at the federal and state levels, as well as the sub-minimum wage paid to tipped workers like waiters."

In other words, the Times writes, employees who generally would argue for an increase in the minimum wage actually are helping to fund a lobbying group that has effectively worked against any such increase.

The Times offers some context:

"The federal minimum wage has risen just once since 1996, to $7.25 from $5.15, while the minimum hourly wage for tipped workers has been $2.13 since 1991. Minimums are higher in many states, but still below what labor groups consider a living wage.

"For years, the restaurant association and its affiliates have used ServSafe to create an arrangement with few parallels in Washington, where labor unwittingly helps to pay for management’s lobbying. First, in 2007, the restaurant owners took control of a training business. Then they helped lobby states to mandate the kind of training they already provided — producing a flood of paying customers.

"More than 3.6 million workers have taken this training, providing about $25 million in revenue to the restaurant industry’s lobbying arm since 2010. That was more than the National Restaurant Association spent on lobbying in the same period, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

"That $25 million represented about 2 percent of the National Restaurant Association’s total revenues over that same period, but more than half of the amount its members paid in dues. Most industry groups are much more reliant on big-dollar donors or membership support to meet their expenses. Most of the association’s revenues come from trade shows and other classes."

The Times notes that "the president of the National Restaurant Association, Michelle Korsmo, declined to be interviewed. In a written statement, she said the group had sought to protect both public health and the financial health of the industry.  'The association’s advocacy work keeps restaurants open; it keeps workers employed, it finds pathways for worker opportunity, and it keeps our communities healthy,' Ms. Korsmo wrote."

KC's View:

First, I'd suggest that the National Restaurant Association needs to get better public relations advice - that written statement consists of the kind of gruel that most of its members should be embarrassed to serve.

Second, I would just observe that this story - which should go viral pretty quickly - won't do a lot for management-labor relations in the restaurant industry.  A lot of operators may now feel pressure to move to a different training company without the same lobbying connections.