While the pasta water at Olive Garden may be lacking in salinity, the attitudes of workers there and at other Darden restaurants have grown increasingly salty. So much so that nearly 7,000 Darden employees have signed a petition to meet with the company's executive leadership and representatives from Starboard Value, the activist hedge fund trying to replace the entire Darden board, and which recently released a 300-page presentation on why it believes the state of affairs at Olive Garden is in such disarray. If Starboard and Darden leadership don't meet with the employees, they are threatening "direct action" in New York City ahead of Darden's annual meeting in Orlando on Oct. 10.
What the petition, started by six-year Olive Garden employee Steve Gazzo and titled, "Darden: We Want a Seat at the Table," takes issue with is Starboard's plan and the fact that Darden is caught in a "leadership vacuum" that could cause potential layoffs. Gazzo also states that "it's getting harder and harder for employees to make ends meet" at Olive Garden, given Darden's changes to its auto-gratuity and break scheduling policies.
Gazzo started the petition about a month ago, and, it appears, is tired of being ignored by both Darden leadership and by what he calls "predatory hedge fund" Starboard Value.
"If we continue to be ignored, we will make our voices heard with Starboard, Darden and the other shareholders," Gazzo said in a statement Thursday. "We're people, we aren't assets to be sold off. Everything Starboard Value has done so far falls right in line with their history of destroying companies and jobs. I started this petition because I've worked at Olive Garden for six years, I know I'm one of thousands of employees who want the company to succeed. We're with the customers every day, we're the face of the restaurant, we believe we have genuinely helpful insights on how to make the company better, but apparently it's company policy to ignore us. "
And so, the battle of the breadsticks rages on.
Mariah Summers is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Summers reports on hospitality, travel and real estate.
Contact Mariah Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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