Guy Fieri is fighting for struggling restaurant owners – too bad he doesn’t care as much about their workers

Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and cohost of the "Pitchfork Economics" podcast with Nick Hanauer and David Goldstein.
This week for Insider, he writes about restaurateur Guy Fieri’s recent interview with Kara Swisher.
In it, Fieri rehashed "tired trickle-down threats" and sounded less like a man of the people, Constant writes.
See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Less than a decade ago, celebrity chef Guy Fieri was a joke. New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells’s 2012 viral slam of Fieri’s Times Square restaurant beclowned Fieri with such casual brutality that it seemed the host of tv shows like "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" would never fully rehabilitate his reputation.
But a lot can change in 10 years. As I write this, the Guy Fieri renaissance is in full swing. Fieri has seen tremendous financial success: he recently signed a three-year $80 million contract with the Food Network, and opened a nationwide chain of delivery-only "ghost kitchens" in response to the pandemic.
He’s also receiving a critical reappraisal from the media elites who once mocked him. The engine of the Fierissance is Fieri’s philanthropic work. Since finding fame through reality television, Fieri has raised money for children in need, donated meals, and, most recently, he created the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund with the National Restaurant Association, which raised roughly $25 million to help restaurant workers who lost their jobs in the pandemic.
This week, Fieri appeared on New York Times opinion writer Kara Swisher’s interview podcast "Sway," and he presented himself as a down-to-earth everyday dude. Fieri made sure to use his platform to speak up for independent restaurants, which are still hurting badly from the pandemic.
"We need support from legislation," Fieri urged politicians, admitting that he’s "pissed" at the way the restaurant industry has been largely left to its own devices during the last year.
So far, so good: Fieri is advocating for the restaurant industry that gave him his start and made him a star. But when Swisher’s questions begin to drill down into specific policy decisions, Fieri sounds less like a man of the people and more like, well, the wealthy owner of an international chain of restaurants. Specifically, he begins to drag out the same tired trickle-down threats that you hear from embittered restaurant owners when their city considers raising the minimum wage.
Fieri’s take on government regulationsWhen Swisher asks Fieri if he wants lawmakers to regulate exploitative gig economy apps like DoorDash that are milking small businesses with exorbitant fees to participate in their low-wage meal delivery services, Fieri balks.
"I hate regulations," Fieri said. "I’m not a big fan of rules. I think that all of a sudden government jumps in and makes it so certain groups can’t work together and all this kind of stuff."
Continuing his anti-regulatory rant, Fieri cites regulations banning alcohol delivery in many states and cities that lawmakers quickly lifted when lockdowns started happening. His implication seems to be that lifting regulations, not creating more, is the only way to success.
Instead of making laws to create a more equitable delivery app economy, Fieri said, "it would be awesome if some gigantic philanthropist could say, ‘hey, you know what? Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll make it so we’re a nonprofit delivery company. And we’ll make sure drivers make money and restaurants make money. And here you go.’"
The difference between philanthropy and equitable wagesOf course, wealthy people love to promote philanthropy as the perfect solution to all of the world’s problems, because unlike with taxes, wealthy people control the amount of philanthropic giving.
Fieri hoping for a wealthy person to magnanimously create a wildly popular nonprofit delivery app does absolutely nothing to improve outcomes for small businesses and gig workers. But legislation ensuring that Doordash and Grubhub drivers receive paid sick and family leave days, like the law passed by the Seattle City Council last year, actively helps workers who have struggled through the pandemic.
Even worse is Fieri’s answer when Swisher asks why many restaurants are having trouble hiring workers right now.
"It’s really difficult to get your kids to eat a really healthy dinner and come to the dinner table hungry when they’ve been having snacks during the day," Fieri said, adding later, "Why would you go and eat broccoli if you just got to eat Doritos?"
The "snacks" in his analogy seem to be the weekly $300 additional unemployment insurance payments that were a part of the last stimulus package. Fieri says those payments were "awesome" during the pandemic, but "at some point in time, we’ve got to pivot. And we’ve got to get people back to work."
Relatable versus ‘rich guy dismissiveness’For Fieri to dismiss unemployment payments of $300 to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic as junk food, and to promote low-wage, exploitative restaurant jobs as healthy and nutritious, is not just wrongheaded and snobbish – it’s also the worst kind of trickle-down nonsense.
And again, it’s not reflective of reality. Job-search company Indeed reports that more people are looking for work in states that still provide the $300 per week. People have looked at the horrible conditions at low-paying restaurants and they’ve decided they’d rather switch careers.
Employers who raise their wages get more applications, and higher-quality workers. Instead, Fieri dismissed hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers who lost their jobs as lazy. And he continued to take an anti-worker stance when Swisher asked whether restaurant workers should unionize.
Fieri responded that management in his restaurants are so proactive that there’s no need for a union. "At my restaurants, if a situation ever comes up, we get involved and address it," Fieri said.
That completely unsatisfactory answer doesn’t reflect the day-to-day experiences of workers who have faced retaliation for bringing a problem to HR, or whose calls for help have been roundly ignored by management. And the data are very clear that union jobs pay better – about 11% better, in one study – than non-union jobs.
For every single opportunity that Fieri had to advocate for restaurant workers during the interview, he either balked or actively pushed back. That’s because Flavortown, like so many corporate endeavors, is built on a foundation of low wages and worker exploitation.
Guy Fieri absolutely deserves accolades for the advocacy work he’s doing for independent restaurant owners. He uses his platform to promote business owners who’ve largely been left out of the civic conversation – especially during the pandemic.
But it’s also vital to remember that Fieri is a remarkably wealthy man, and he got that way thanks to the hard work of his employees. Customers in countries around the globe enjoy Fieri’s Flavortown brand for its familiarity, its bold tastes, and its affordable prices. But behind the scenes at Flavortown, the workers are fed a steady diet of empty trickle-down calories that keep them poor and enriches those at the top.
Read the original article on Business Insider


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