Let Them Eat (Pan)Cakes?
Walker Bros.' Worker Treatment Doesn't Stack Up
Last week, the Chicago Tribune ran an article by reporter Chris Borrelli, Meet the table busser who’s worked at the same Wilmette pancake house for 54 years, and still makes minimum wage.
The busser, Mr. Othea Loggan, has worked in the same position at Walker Bros. The Original Pancake House--a popular dining destination for many Evanston families--for more than half a century, and, according to owner Ray Walker, still makes about minimum wage.
Although Mr. Loggan asserts in the article that he is content with his job, he has clearly suffered financial hardships because of his abysmally low wages. He does not receive a pension, health care, or a typical 401K plan. His son admits that “there were times it was hard to get food on the table.”
Another busser who has worked at the Pancake House for 38 years is on Medicare and barely makes enough to cover his dialysis treatments and rent.
Mr. Walker is obviously aware of these financial challenges, taking out life insurance on Loggan (payable to his wife); and “setting aside about $50 a month for him, as an informal retirement fund (subject to a 30 percent penalty for early withdrawal).”
Mr. Walker says he also sometimes gives away his old clothes to workers, because “a lot of the guys, you see them in the same pants every day, or in clothes in need of repair — many of them don’t have a lot of clothes to wear.”
When asked by the Tribune reporter why he doesn't simply pay them more, Walker replied, “there are a lot of ways to reimburse people.”
Yes, there are many ways to reimburse people, but the best, most ethical way--especially for such a successful business--is to pay them regularly what they are worth.
For 54 years, Mr. Loggan has made a four-hour commute from the south side of Chicago to Wilmette, taking two trains and a bus (and before the bus route existed, walking from Evanston). He is by all accounts a model employee, beloved by customers and staff alike.
So why is he still making minimum wage?
This is not just about Mr. Loggan and his personal choices. This is about a company that takes in an estimated $1 to $5 million a year, yet does not pay a living wage or health benefits.
We won’t say Mr. Walker is unconcerned or callous towards his staff, but his comments are paternalistic and condescending.
He doesn’t appear to trust Mr. Loggan to make his own financial decisions, choosing instead to set up insurance and retirement funds in a way that give Mr. Walker complete control; not only is there substantial penalty for early withdrawal, but this is not a plan that Mr Loggan can take elsewhere.
Apparently, it’s also something not available to the rest of the staff. Walker, the article says, “treats Loggan a little better than the rest of the staff," but he hesitated to go into detail. “Others would want to know what they’re not getting,” Walker tells the reporter.
In short, Mr. Walker seems to view providing for his workers as a form of charity, a laudable but optional arrangement that is completely at his discretion and takes agency away from his workers.
In a 2017 interview, Walker stresses how important it is to “do everything right by your staff … And to do right by your staff, you need to give them everything they need. The definition of ‘everything they need’ is always changing and it’s your job to know what that definition is every single day.”
No, Mr. Walker, that is not your job. Your job, your moral obligation, is to pay all of your workers fairly and let them decide what they need. Occasionally tossing them your discarded clothes doesn't cut it.
Admittedly, the employment practices at Walker Brothers are not unusual. According to the Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC) segregation report 2015:
The restaurant industry employs nearly 11 million workers and is one of the fastest growing sectors of the US economy. Despite the industry’s growth, restaurant workers occupy seven of the 10 lowest-paid occupations reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the economic position of workers of color in the restaurant industry is particularly precarious.
Restaurant workers experience poverty at nearly three times the rate of workers overall, and workers of color experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of white restaurant workers.
Clearly, Walker Bros. is not alone in its treatment of workers. But that doesn’t mean we can let it off the hook. Walker Bros. must do better. Even with tips, minimum wage is not a liveable wage. After 54 years on the job helping to make Walker Bros. such a popular and successful business, Mr. Loggan deserves not only a fair wage, but also benefits and a retirement plan.
In the article, Ray Walker is quoted as saying that Mr. Loggan was “the complete opposite of a Black Panther kind of guy,” never an advocate or rabble rouser, and that “limited schooling probably helped smooth out his world — I would doubt Loggan really ever dreamed about buying a Cadillac.”
These comments are patronizing towards Mr. Loggan and to African Americans in general.
Mr. Walker: do you believe Black people should be content with an inferior education and low wages? Do you believe that only squeaky wheels should be fairly compensated, that companies should pay up only when they’re forced to?
We stand with the rabble rousers who demand equality over paternalism and justice over charity. We ask for your commitment to a living wage, and full health and retirement benefits for Walker Bros. employees.
Signed: Nina Kavin and Lesley Williams