December 20th, 2012

Egaliatarian: A democratically run Ohio restaurant violates regulations

This is a tale of a worker-owned restaurant in Athens Ohio named Casa Nueva. It’s been around since 1985. They believe in egalitarianism. It is incorporated into their business practice. Nancie Buerkel told Slate reporter Joe Donatelli “What we truly believed in was that everybody, from the dishwasher, the prep cook, the cooks, the servers, provided the customer’s meal, so they should share in the tips.” It turns out that new associates at Casa Nueva all earned less than minimum wage for their hourly rate (a common restaurant practice for wait staff), but when the tip pool was added and then divided, they were paid “way more” than minimum wage.

The restaurant’s policies, codified in a 67-page book, include the background to Employee Co-Ops and acknowledge the “tension” between a workplace that actually practices democracy and the need to run a profitable business enterprise. Thanks to Slate, you can read a copy of the Member Handbook.

Oh, if only modern organizations embraced democracy and equality as much as tiny Casa Nueva. The restaurant seems to be channeling principles of the French Revolution, which was inspired by the American Revolution. But American employers enact more Holocaust-like treatment of workers, adhering to authoritarian principles in the land of the supposedly “free and the brave.”

To be egalitarian is to consider that “all human persons are equal in fundamental worth or moral status.” In practice, people should get the same resources and be treated as equals.

The shared tip policy was designed to increase everyone’s salary.

The restaurant’s stated mission is:

We are dedicated to strengthening the environmental, economic and social well being of our community by promoting wholesome products, democratic participation and responsible business practices.

But democracy in the workplace in America hit a snag. Turns out the Casa Nueva policy violates U.S. Department of Labor standards regarding tipping in restaurants. I refer you to the Slate article for Donatelli’s fine research on the minutiae of regulatory mandates. It seems the DOL inspector had never seen a place like Casa Nueva. The rules were created to stop restaurant owners from stealing from employees.

In the end, the novel restaurant had to change its practices but all owner-workers had to meet to discuss what to change. They decided to implement a no tip policy. To make it work, they raised prices for customers.

The lesson from the Casa Nueva story is less about the big bad government agency dictating changes for the small restaurant (and bodega) than it is a showcase for a marvelous notion of how to organize a business. Wish they could all be this way.

I particularly liked in the Member Handbook the Ground Rules for Cooperation spelled out for all member-owners, starting on page 36. Avoid power plays, equal rights, personal responsibility and a unique section on Self-Management on page 42 that advises individuals to be an owner (or act like one)!


P.S. Casa Nueva has a NO FIREARMS policy, too. The state of Ohio permits concealed handguns. However, as one worker-owner put it on the restaurant’s website:

“I used to own/collect firearms and my younger self would have obtained a concealed carry permit in a heartbeat, but maturity, reflection on a friend’s accidental death from my childhood, a previous job as a paramedic and the 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine made me realize that guns enable people to kill people, even when they don’t mean or want to. People can take all the firearm safety and shooting classes they want, you still don’t know how they will react when someone’s shooting back or if they will be over-powered and have their gun taken by the ‘bad’ guys/gals. My sole concern is for the safety of myself, my co-workers and our patrons.”


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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 20th, 2012 at 2:46 pm and is filed under Good News, Tutorials About Bullying, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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