New Report Reveals Payroll Cards' High Costs to Low Wage Workers

For Immediate Release

New Report Reveals Payroll Cards' High Costs to Low Wage Workers

7.4 Million Americans Compensated With Costly Payroll Cards, Including Nearly 50% at Darden Restaurants, One of US’s Largest Employers

WASHINGTON - Today, Thursday May 12, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) released “The High Cost of Getting Paid: How Payroll Cards Cost Darden Employees,” a report that examines Darden Restaurants’ use of payroll cards, which apply costly hidden fees to over a hundred thousand of their low-wage employees.

The study, based on an in-depth survey of over 200 Darden employees, examines the unsubstantiated claim that the cards are a convenient substitute to cash or checks for employees without traditional bank accounts. The findings show that thousands of low-wage workers at Darden are actually paying high fees just to access their own earned wages. In addition to detailing the many troubling impacts that payroll cards have on workers, the report also outlines a set of policy recommendations to protect Darden workers and can serve as a model to protect other low-wage employees nationwide.

“The use of payroll cards in the restaurant industry allows large employers like Darden to cut millions in administrative costs, while card companies can enjoy lucrative profits by charging workers simply to access their own wages,” said Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder and Co-Director of ROC United. “In fact, many Darden workers are issued cards without full knowledge of the fees they can incur for something as simple as withdrawing money from an ATM, or checking their account balance. Payroll cards should be offered as one of several free and safe ways for workers to receive their wages, rather than be used as a vehicle for steering employees towards accounts with hidden costs and excessive fees.”

Darden’s tipped servers reported special complications using the payroll card. In states where tipped employees earn the federal subminimum wage of $2.13 per hour, much if not all of their wages go towards paying taxes. For tipped workers, fees can create an additional barrier to accessing wages on the payroll card because fees amount to a larger percentage of their wages. This provides a disincentive for workers to access their wages via the payroll card and may have the effect of allowing Darden to shift the costs of doing business onto their already low-wage tipped workforce.

Key findings include:                

  • 76% of employees reported having to pay fees to access their wages at the ATM.
  • 42% reported experiencing problems accessing their wages through the payroll card.
  • 24% of employees reported fees at point-of-purchase.
  • 63% reported that they were not told about all of the fees associated with the card before it was issued to them.
  • 49% reported that they do not have access to ATMs that do not charge them a fee to access their wages.
  • 26% reported not being allowed to choose an alternative method of payment to the Darden payroll card.
  • 23% of employees reported not being given instructions on how to use the Darden Card.
  • 54% of employees who used the card to fill up their gas tanks have experienced large authorization holds on their card as a result.

Recommended solutions for policymakers include:

  • Support legislation that eliminates the lower minimum wage for tipped workers.
  • Pass legislation that ensures workers have unlimited free access to the entirety of their wages
  • Provide clarity to employers about how to offer payroll cards in compliance with the law.
  • Require that workers be clearly informed about card fees in multiple formats in plain English, supplemented by a hard copy of the fee schedule in the workers’ first language, before being issued their payroll card.
  • Allow workers to withdraw wages and verify account balances free of charge by telephone and at an accessible network of ATMs.   
  • Ban inappropriate fees for basic account information, declines, overdraft fees, and other fees that constitute a barrier to a worker’s free access to their wages.  

The release of this report coincides with the efforts of Good Food Now, a coalition of environmental, social-justice and animal-welfare groups, including ROC United, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Friends of the Earth, Green America, and the Animal Welfare Institute.  Good Food Now is demanding that Darden Restaurants, the parent company to Olive Garden and the nation’s largest full-service restaurant employer, do more to protect animals, the environment and workers by substantially improving their food sourcing and labor practices, including the unjust reliance on payroll cards. Learn more about the Good Food Now efforts here: http://www.good-food-now.com/

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Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News) ROC United has grown to 18,000 worker-members across over 15 states, in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $10 million in stolen tips and wages.

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