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An Open Letter to the Drink Tax "Astroturf"
by Arson Daily Friday, Nov. 16, 2007 at 3:12 PM
An open letter to the fake grassroots organization, created by lobbyists and PR firms that is meant to appear local and spontaneous in its opposition to the propsed 10% drink tax
Dear Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation (FACT),
As a former restaurant employee, who has done eleven years hard time, primarily in mom-and-pop or local chain establishments (including some who are involved with FACT), I'm well aware of the difficult nature of that industry. You may also be aware that it is financially much more difficult for eateries that don't have the State's consent to sell alcohol, with its hefty mark-up. I'm not sure how the County's other purveyors of alcohol are faring, but it's absurd for any of the men who make up FACT's board of directors to cry indigent or that their particular alcohol centered businesses will be drastically affected by the proposed 10% levy.
Do you worry about corporate chains running you out of business? Personally, if I were you, I'd be more worried about them than any drink tax or even the costs of fair treatment of the people whose labor you profit from. Do you think that being installed as an astroturf (a fake grassroots organization, created by lobbyists and PR firms that is meant to appear local and spontaneous) group for lobbyist Rick Berman, whose American Beverage Institute is the brains and bankroll behind your FACT group and the stopdrinktax.com website, could have some undesirable long-term consequences? Do you think Mr. Berman is more concerned with his Allegheny County pawns, who put the petty in petit bourgeois or his other clients, which include:
American Restaurant Group, Anheuser-Busch, Arby's, Brinker International, Burger King, Carson Restaurants Worldwide, Chili's, Chi-Chi's, Cracker Barrel, El Torito, Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, Hard Rock Café, Hooters of America, Inc., Houston's Restaurants, International House of Pancakes, Jack-in-the-Box, KKR Enterprises, Luby's, Marie Callender Pie Shops, Marriott Corp., Metromedia Restaurant Group, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Panda Management Company, Perkins Family Restaurants, Rare Hospitality International, Red Lobster, Shoney's, Sizzler, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday's, Uno, Vicorp Restaurants, Wendy's and more than I cared to copy and paste, but none of those omitted were local brewpubs. Seems like Stockholm syndrome or just little suicidal to me.
Granted you must be thrilled with some of Mr. Berman's other work with front groups such as the Employment Policies Institute, which does all it can to keep the minimum wage as low as possible, the anti-worker Center for Union Facts, but not for you, for his big clients. Berman and Co. have even set up a group called Activist Cash, which seeks to discredit any organized opposition to their clients interests by painting them as recipients of dirty money or most ironically as front groups, like FACT and all the other Berman constructs.
The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) obviously doesn't spend it's money wisely, as the first priority of any bureaucracy is to ensure it's own continued existence; the agency's stated function is secondary. Contrary to what the media would have you believe, wages and benefits are not the problem, silly underwater tunnels that lead to casinos and management bonuses are the problem. Unlike yourself, I truly believe that bus drivers, as well as all working people, including those who make you fat, deserve a decent material standard of living.
Given the vast sums of public money that is spent locally to militarize law enforcement and on handouts to corporate parasites, I agree that the poured-drink tax wouldn't have been my first choice, but at the end of the day, I'm more concerned with public transit than your profits. Nothing personal. You shouldn't be shocked that I'm concerned with the interests of my social class, the same as you are concerned with yours. Life's tough, just like you tell your employees if they need a weekend off.
However, your affluence comes with a high social cost and I'm not referring to the obvious things like drunk driving and heart disease and agribusiness. There are enough paid expert witnesses and politicians and activist-types to deal with that. I'm talking about the compensation and general treatment of the people who work themselves to death, so you don't have to. Most of you only pay your waitstaff $2.83 an hour, because you can legally get away with it, and few if any of you offer any type of benefits to non-management. I'm talking about health insurance, not a 20% discount while they are at work. I wonder how many of your employees are forced to apply for medical assistance and how many of them fall through the cracks because "they earn too much"? Your exploitation of working people creates a burden on what passes for a "social safety net" in the US.
Your establishments are unsafe for the people who work there, physically and mentally. You pit workers against one another as another means of control, beyond your cameras and ID numbers and magnetic cards. Your schedules are erratic and subject to change at moment's notice, and posted at the last possible moment, sometimes a day or two after it is already in effect. The hours are bad and it is hard to have much of a life when a shift typically starts in the afternoon and ends late at night. People who work in food service often carry on their social life while on the job which can lead to a hostile environment with all the near incestuous mating, dating and breaking up. Sexual harassment is so prevalent it often goes unnoticed, as there is nothing to contrast it with.
You also have a drinking and substance abuse problem. Not you personally, well, not all of you anyway. The industry, especially the trendy establishments, seem to favor a certain kind of lecherous, pretentious, Trustafarian, with a fondness for Peruvian marching powder, as the ideal candidate for management. You'll turn a blind eye to all the open consumption of alcohol and other less socially acceptable inebriates, because you know if they sobered up, they'd never come back for more abuse from you and your customers. The police and courts are more than happy to deal with uninsured people who are having a substance abuse problem, by locking them up, since your industry's aversion to employee benefits turns their medical issue into a moral/legal one. At least it's one industry that has never really taken up the disturbing practice of urine testing.
I'm aware that you feel there is already too much State interference in your privileged existence as a business owner, but remember, like the lobbyists you are in bed with, the State is no more concerned about your continued financial well being as you are about a worker's, and would love to replace all of your establishments with corporate chains. When that day comes, remember, you had a hand in your own undoing.
Abolish Restaurants from prole.info
by Arson Daily Saturday, Nov. 17, 2007 at 5:23 PM
I wish to apologize for stating that there was a direct link between FACT and the American Beverage Institute and has removed the offending content. While the both oppose the proposed drink tax, they are not the same organization. A hasty reading of a Tribune Review article led to some confuse. It was not my intention to deceive anyone. Fortunately, no one reads this blog anyhow. Another bit of confusion is whether the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, whose Chairman of the Board, Kevin Joyce, seems to regard the American Beverage Institute and Rick Berman with disdain, links to them on their website? I'd feel even sillier if they were indirectly funding the same campaign. A google search for stopdrinktax.com and American Beverage Institute turn out some computer gibberish that creates the appearance of a link between the two, but it is just computer gibberish:
Overpriced restaurant alcohol is still a luxury item, and the food service industry still exacts a high social cost. I still don't care if wealthy people have to pay $88 for that $80 bottle of wine or the underage college students have to pay a little more for their 1/2 price frozen margaritas. I'm more concerned with the interests of my social class. Again, I wish the politicians had proposed a different solution for the funding, but those aren't my politicians, they belong to business interests and their lobbies. I am truly sorry for any confusion I may have caused and I hope that your financial situation improves. Sincerely, Arson Daily Here's Mr. Joyce's reply
... the American Beverage Institute, and Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation ... throughout Allegheny County to go to www.stopdrinktax.com. ... www.stopdrinktax.com/stopdrinktax3.swf
As a guy that sits on the Executive Committee of FACT and am the 2007 Chairman of the Board of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, I can tell you that Rick Berman and ABI have absolutely nothing to do with FACT. No contributions, nothing. FACT was set up entirely by many of us local restaurteurs who have been meeting weekly and actively fighting this unfair tax. Arson’s entire diatribe is based on fantasy. The signs that are seen in Chelsa’s window were probably paid for by me, as I put up the first $5,000 in printing to get us started. Later the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association kicked in $20,000 and we have passed the hat. Our $40,000 billboard campaign (25 billboards went up November 5) were financed entirely by passiing the hat with nuberous restsaurants and related businesses contributing their Greenapple trade dollars. This fight has been exhausiting and has kept many of us away from our businesses. The Finance Committee of Council has met Tues thru Thrusday the last few weeks and there are many of us there nightly. This is a grassroots fight and we are up against very powerful forces including the Allegheny Conference and the Dan Onorato machine. From my perspective, as a guy that has kept his doors open and employed 50-80 folks for the past 23 years in One Mellon Center, this fight is about my businesses survival. If I do not survive, my longterm employees lose thier jobs and yes thier health benefits. I hate the fact that a family health insureanc pollicy has now escalated to $1396 a month and that many of my employees cannot afford their share. I am very nearly at the point where I will not be able to afford the employer share. If this tax becomes a reality, it will be the final straw for many businesses that are just getting by. Believe me, in our industry in this region, that is the state for many. I am glad that Arson never worked for me. Yes, it is a tough industry and the hours can be more than difficult. But there is something wonderful about serving people and being there for the good times in their life. It gets in you blood. When I walked into a county club at age 14 looking for a job, I could not of imagined that I would never leave the hospitality industry. But it gets in your blood. There are plenty of great lifes and careeers that have started in the hospitality industy and there are plenty of folks that have been uplifted by their time served in our industry. I am sorroy that Arson had such a poor experience.However, no Rick Berman or ABI. I look forward to reading the retraction and the apology. Below is an email from El Presdiente of FACT Sean Casey:
Just a quick update about FACT. It was founded by local Pittsburgers with zero input from ABI and not one penny has been contributed from any of your alleged corporate lists. None of the large national chains listed has contributed a cent or sat in on a meeting with us - your corporate chains are paralyzed to act by corporate bureacracy. Futhermore, why should they act; local operators without national buying power will be knocked out of business futher benefiting the groups Rick Berman supports gaining yet more tenacles into society. Several of the founders of FACT were not members of PRA/NRA (Restaraunt Associations) as they did not support the more conservative positions supported by those organizations. Enough Studies have shown a 10% hike in alchololic beverages impacts consumer consumption by 5%. That 5% reduction will carry through to a 45% hit on bottom line profits in my operations, taking a 45% hit on profits is very problematic and will likely result in eliminating health benefits offered to my employees or destroying a simple IRA plan established for them. Our county employees are asked to pay a minute 1% of their health care costs, its tough but I manage to pay 50% for my employees. In order to keep funding the huge county pension plans and 1% benefits, I'll likely have to eliminate the benefits that I have fought so hard to implement in my own establishment for my own employees. If yor whiney ass is so intent on killing off the locally owned hospitality operators and supporting mis managed government, go register to speak at county council. Take the effort, act like a real person and stand out and speak out in front of county Council. Don't be a lame ass and just bitch on the web, Step out and up like a real Citizen & tell myself and county council on transcribed record why we are pawns of a massive cigarette lobbyist and this tax is a good idea. Sean Casey - Owner of The Church Brew Works and President of FACT
Dear Mr Casey,
by PJD Monday, Nov. 26, 2007 at 11:42 PM
I ued to frequent the Church Brew Works - primarily for beer and sandwiches rather than your overpriced main courses.
Lately, I've noticed that the place is chronically understaffed, service has been lousy and employee morale stinks. Clearly this Mr, Casey had gotten too greedy.
But now, the rabid attack on the drink tax and public transit.
He's lost 100% of my business...