Darden Restaurants, which operates chains like Longhorn, Olive Garden, and others is facing criticism from a ROC United report on the practice of paying nearly half of their employees with payroll debit cards. The labor advocacy group claims that the system has allowed Darden to save millions while workers have to pay numerous fees to access their own wages.
From Alex Mierjeski’s write-up:
According to the report, 76 percent of workers said they had to pay fees to access their wages at ATMs, and 24 percent said they had to pay fees at point-of-purchase locations. Many others reported experiencing different fees. Some respondents said that even when they asked to get their paycheck via direct deposit, there was pushback from managers.
Darden, in its defense, says that payroll cards provide a convenient path for bank-less employees to receive their earnings without paying costly check-cashing fees. Likewise, they would presumably be more likely to avoid even costlier payday advance stores. In an admirable attempt to drop the mic just like the kids a company spokesman notes in the Mierjeski piece that almost half of workers choosing this option “should speak for itself.”
Oddly enough Darden is responding like a morally dubious clock that’s ethically correct twice a day. Bank-less workers are indeed thoroughly exploited. Helping them is a great idea and the right thing to do. But if you’re thinking that what Darden is doing is just appropriating the predatory payday profit structure for themselves in some modernity version of sixteen tons, well, you’d be correct. They’re taking the place of institutions they criticize, and adopting the practices they say they’re protecting their employees from while splitting the venture with banks who service the cards. These things are like the RushCard but, you know, for serving all-you-can-eat breadsticks and folding thick linen napkins.
It’s true that workers choosing this option does speak for itself, but not to the beneficence of Darden Restaurants. It speaks to a broken banking system that allows low-wage workers, predominately in underserved communities, to be screwed either by their employer or a third party. A better proposal would be something along the lines of postal banking, where workers can have access to basic financial services while also getting to keep all of their wages.