DENNY’S BRAND HAS HAD A TROUBLED HISTORY FEATURING COURT ACTIONS AND RIGHTS ABUSE CLAIMS
By Tom Sandborn
A recent BC class action suit targeting the Canadian firm that operates the Denny’s franchise in Western Canada says that the over 50 Filipino workers who came to Canada to work for the firm were denied even the minimal protections of the existing Canadian programs, the Memorandum of Agreement between the BC government and Philippine governments and applicable BC labour law.
The suit, filed January 7, alleges that recruitment agents acting for the Canadian firm Northland Property Corporation (which is the exclusive western Canadian franchisee for the US based Denny’s Corporation) charged workers up to $6,000.00 each for placing them in the Canadian jobs and required them to pay for their own transportation costs to and from the Philippines. Both expenses, the suit claims, should have been borne by the employer
Further, the workers say that they have not always received the 40 hours of paid work each week they were promised. On the other hand, the filing claims, when these workers are required to put in overtime, they are not paid the legally required higher rate. The class action document also claims that Denny’s workers who complained about paying recruitment and travel fees or who questioned why they were not receiving the full weekly shifts and proper overtime pay they had been promised were threatened with punitive job loss and being sent back home. The class action document also says that Denny’s (“on their own behalf on through their agents,”) coached employees to lie to investigators from the provincial Employment Standards Branch during a 2010 probe into the restaurant’s labour practices. (None of these claims have yet been tested in court, and Denny’s spokespeople have vigorously denied the allegations. It should be noted that the relationship between Denny’s in Canada and Denny’s in the US is not direct ownership. Northlands, a separate company, operates Denny’s outlets in Canada under a franchise agreement with Denny’s)
Since the class action suit was filed, supporters of the temporary foreign workers including the advocacy group Migrante (http://migrantebc.org/ ) have held a demonstration outside a local Denny’s outlet and a public forum on the rights of temporary workers at a Vancouver church.
If the claims in the current class action are proven in court, it will not be the first time that the Denny’s brand has been associated with labour and/or human rights abuse. Denny’s in the US has a long and checkered history of labour and human rights difficulties in the US courts. And right here in Vancouver, labour and women’s liberation activists with long memories recall that a local Denny’s lay at the centre of an important dispute over allegations of abuse of both customers and employees in the 1970s.
Jean Rands remembers the day in the winter of 1973 when workers at a Vancouver Denny’s walked off the job and mounted a wildcat picket line in protest after they said they were fired for not pressuring low income customers to leave the restaurant quickly. Rands, who was then an officer in the Service Office and Retail Workers Union of Canada, (SORWUC) a pioneering feminist attempt to organize worksites where women were in the majority, like restaurants and banks, said the picket line, which garnered extensive support from local feminists and labour groups, went on for months and featured “scary” moments when Denny’s hired private detectives followed picket line participants away from the restaurant to their cars, presumably to note their license numbers and thus identify them .
In the United States, the home of the Denny’s brand, the core firm and its franchise holders have been the focus of legal actions alleging improper corporate treatment of both customers and staff over the years. In 1994 Denny’s settled two class action suits involving racial discrimination against African American customers. The damages paid under the settlement of the two actions came to over $46 million, which went to the 294,537 claimants named as members of the class action
Although the company apparently made efforts to reach out to the African American community in response to the huge settlement, and reportedly had 35% of its US franchises held by minority group members by 1998, those efforts did not immunize it from further troubles. A suit filed in 2010 alleges that Denny’s had systematically failed to pay overtime pay due to their managerial staff since 2006.
2010 also saw a human rights complaint filed against a Maine Denny’s for discrimination
against a transgendered customer and already this year a class action suit has been filed alleging the company compels employees to attend staff meetings outside normal work hours but fails to pay them for their time.