- Customers have begun noticing “COVID-19 surcharges” on their bills at some restaurants across the U.S.
- Those outraged by the fees have been calling and harassing restaurants that are adding them, meanwhile, others argue that it’s a small price to pay to help keep these businesses open.
- Business owners have said the temporary fees are adjusted weekly to help cover the increased costs of meat, protective gear, and take-out packaging.
- They have also stressed that they are not trying to “get rich” off these charges but are just trying to take care of their staff and businesses during the pandemic.
Negative Reactions to Surcharges
Several customers across the country have noted a coronavirus “surcharge” attached to the bottom of their restaurant bills, prompting a flood of different reactions online.
A $2.19 charge spotted at a restaurant in Missouri sparked a ton of frustration. “Scuse me … what? A covid surcharge…?” a woman posted on Twitter after she found the viral photo online and shared it.
That was met with loads of comments from users saying they would never pay such a charge, while others called it a small price to pay to help support the business.
If I ever see this in my bill, I’m not paying it. You can take it off or keep the food. Your choice. Worst time ever to tax people who can least afford it even more. We are helping you just by continuing to patronize your business when we are all out of work.— Malik 💫 (@mr_mookie) May 14, 2020
If I ever see this on a bill I wld not pay it. Complete bullshit. I’m tryin to recoup too. Who am I suppose to bill ??? Is this evn legal ?— RC&M’s Mia (@maof4boysplus1) May 11, 2020
I’m sure it was disclosed. It’s a small price to pay to support them and keep them open.— MsWu (@mstinaswu) May 11, 2020
Not a bad idea! How do we expect small business to pay for PPE ????? It’s a small charge. If anyone has a problem with it cook your own dinner!— Colette Dimick (@ColetteDimick) May 14, 2020
Billy Yuzar, the owner and manager of the Japanese steakhouse and sushi lounge, told Fox News that the surcharge was advertised online, as well on the store’s front door and register. He also added that he hadn’t heard any complaints from customers but was bombarded with negative reviews from people who haven’t ever visited his establishment.
The restaurant eventually took to Facebook to defend itself after employees began facing harassment over the photo. “Please understand we are not doing this to take advantage of you guys!” it said.
“We are doing this hoping we can adjust the surcharge weekly rather than just raise all of our prices on our menu due to increase prices from our supplier on meat, poultry, seafood & produce.”
The restaurant also noted that businesses in the community, which use the same suppliers, were also adding similar fees. “So why are we the one that [is] being harassed??!! Stop calling names to my employees!!” the post continued.
In the end, the restaurant apologized, saying it will remove the charge and instead increase prices. It also linked out a CNBC report about changes in the meat supply chain related to the pandemic.
It is true that other restaurants in the area have implemented similar policies. Bootleggers BBQ, another West Plains restaurant, announced it was adding a 5% charge starting on May 8, and customers were initially supportive.
However, the restaurant was later met with several calls and messages accusing it of ripping off customers. “Sadly, these calls were from people out of our area and mostly out of state, not even our customers,” the owner Brian Stacck told NBC’s TODAY.
It too eventually decided to increase prices and remove certain items from its menu in place of the surcharge, promising to print new menus at least once a week to reflect its current limitations and changes.
Staack told TODAY, “I have 26 employees that we have managed to keep at the same hours, or more, throughout this.”
“All I was trying to do was cover our added food cost and keep them working. But people who wouldn’t take the time to listen to me on the phone, or read our explanation on Facebook, would rather make threats.”
Not Just in Missouri, Not Just Restaurant
Though most of the reported outrage seems to be coming from Missouri, there are other businesses across the country that have been implementing the fees and price increased for coronavirus related circumstances.
In San Diego, one Mexican restaurant added a $1 extra charge for carne asada due to meat shortages.
A Texas BBQ joint also noted a price increase for brisket until the “market stabilizes.”
And it doesn’t just end with restaurants. A dentist’s office in Jacksonville Florida reportedly started charging an extra $10 per appointment to cover personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, in Texas, some hair salons have started adding a $3 sanitation charge, according to KTRK-TV Huston.
While many might be upset by these extra charges, they are legal, according to Gregory Frank, a New York City-based attorney.
“Generally, restaurants are allowed to structure their pricing however they like,” Frank told TODAY. “The important question is whether the restaurants are disclosing to consumers what they are paying before they pay it, so they can make their own informed choices.”
It’s also important to note that the cost of adjusting and reprinting menus might not make the most economic sense for every restaurant, especially if it hopes that the increased prices will only be short term.
By adding the added fee to the final sale, Frank says business can also make customers feel more comfortable because they’ll know the temporary charge is related to the current circumstances.
Positive Reactions to Surcharges
Still, not every business has faced as much hate for their surcharges. At Goog’s Pub & Grub in Holland, Michigan, the response to surcharges was much more positive.
The store’s general manager and co-owner Palmer White told The Daily News Thursday that it recently increased prices by $1 per order from 86 cents before. “We’ve received overwhelming support. People have been very understanding,” White said.
Like at other businesses, this change is in response to increase meat prices, but its also aimed at covering the large amount of packaging take out orders require.
“Takeout averages about 82 cents more per meal just to put that meal out cause you’re not just putting it on a plate or tray and washing that again. It’s the silverware, the boxes,” the pub’s other co-owner, Brad White, told Fox 17.
“When this started, we were running about $50 for a case of burgers and then it was up to $55, $62, $66, $72 last week and they just told me next week it’ll probably be up to $88 a case, so almost double what we were paying.”
The pub also noted that it had given its remaining servers raises “so they can maintain a consistent income.”
“They’re still getting tips. Actually, we’ve been blown away by people’s generosity. But tips are based on percentages, and sales just aren’t as high without all the alcohol and desserts,” Palmer added. “We’re trying to make sure they’re being taken care of.”
Both have said they plan to remove the extra charge once the damage from the virus settles.
“We’re not doing this to get rich,” said Palmer. “We just want to see our staff is taken care of, make sure people are fed, make sure our lights are on.“
See what others are saying: (The Daily News) (Fox News) (TODAY)
Apple Raises Worker Pay as Unions Gain Ground
The company’s vice president of people and retail was caught trying to dissuade employees from unionizing in a leaked video.
Labor Squeezes Apple into Submission
Apple announced Wednesday that its U.S. corporate and retail employees will see a pay increase later this year, with starting wages bumped from $20 per hour to $22, though stores in certain regions may get more depending on market conditions.
Starting salaries are also expected to increase.
“Supporting and retaining the best team members in the world enables us to deliver the best, most innovative, products and services for our customers,” an Apple spokesman said in a statement. “This year as part of our annual performance review process, we’re increasing our overall compensation budget.”
Some workers were told their annual reviews would be moved up three months and that their pay increases would take effect in early July, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, they were told the increased compensation budget would be in addition to pay increases and special awards already received within the past year.
Feeling squeezed by low unemployment and high inflation, tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have changed their compensation structures in recent weeks to pay workers more, and Apple is the latest to bend to market pressure.
Unions Gaining Traction
On Wednesday, The Verge received a leaked video of Apple’s vice president of people and retail, Deirdre O’Brien, explicitly dissuading employees from unionizing.
“I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship,” she said. “An organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business. And most importantly one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”
She vocalized more anti-union talking points, like the idea that the company will not be able to make important decisions as quickly with a collective bargaining agreement.
O’Brien has been personally visiting retail stores over the past few weeks in an apparent bid to combat budding union activity.
Apple stores in three locations — New York, Georgia, and Maryland — are currently pushing to unionize, with the latter two set to vote in elections on June 2 and 15, respectively. In response to these efforts, Apple has hired anti-union lawyers, given managers anti-union scripts, and held anti-union captive audience meetings.
In the United States, unionized workers make about 13.2% more than non-unionized workers in the same sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
As of Wednesday, Apple’s shares had fallen 21% since the start of the year, but sales grew 34% last year to almost $300 billion.
See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (CNBC) (The Verge)
Employees at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software Form First Union at a Major Gaming Company
Organizers say the decision has the potential to upend labor practices in the gaming industry.
Raven Software QA Testers Win Union Bid
A group of 28 workers at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software voted to form the first-ever union at a major U.S. gaming company.
While the Game Workers Alliance is a small union, organizers in the space say its formation represents a major shift for the gaming industry and will encourage others in the sector to follow suit.
The newly unionized workers are quality insurance (QA) testers working at the Wisconsin-based studio to develop “Call of Duty.” QA testers work to sort out any glitches in games, and the jobs are notoriously known for extreme crunch periods where staffers work long stretches of hours before a game’s release.
During crunch periods, employees are regularly given 12- to 14-hour shifts with just a few days off each month in order to meet release deadlines.
Many QA testers have said they are treated as second-class to others in the industry. They are paid much lower — often minimum wage or close to it — work on contract cycles and, as a result, feel disposable.
That particular sentiment was underscored for workers at Raven Software in December when the company ended the contracts of about a dozen QA testers. The decision prompted the remaining QA testers to hold a walkout and, shortly after that, they began organizing to form a union, which they dubbed the Game Workers Alliance.
Activision’s Battle Against Unionization Effort
Activision did not support the push for unionization and actively fought against it. The company refused to voluntarily recognize the union, and just days after the group filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, it moved QA testers to different departments across its properties.
Activision also announced it would convert over 1,000 temporary QA workers to full-time employees, give them a pay raise to $20 an hour, and provide more benefits. However, management said the move would not apply to the unionizing workers because, under federal law, they could not try to encourage workers from voting against unionization by offering pay hikes or benefits. Union leaders repudiated that argument.
Additionally, Activision fought against the union petition, arguing that any union would need to include all of the studio’s employees, but the Labor Board rejected the claim and let the effort proceed.
According to multiple reports, Activision management continued to push against the union in the weeks leading up to the vote. Some Raven employees told The Washington Post company leaders had suggested at a town hall meeting that unionization could hurt game development and impact promotions and benefits. The following day, the managers allegedly sent an email urging workers to “vote no.”
On Monday, Labor Board prosecutors announced they had determined that Activision illegally threatened workers and enforced a social media policy that violated bargaining rights. Activision denied the new allegations.
The two parties will have until the end of the month to file an objection, and if none are filed, the union becomes official. It is currently unclear how Activision and Raven will respond, but they have signaled that they might not make the transition period easy for the union.
According to internal documents seen by Bloomberg, the company has repeatedly mentioned that it can take a while for a union to negotiate its first contract.
In a statement following the vote, an Activision spokesperson told The Post that the company respects the right of its employees to vote for or against a union, but added: “We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 of Raven employees. We’re committed to doing what’s best for the studio and our employees.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders
The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.
Uber Gets Fined
Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.
The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.
Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.
The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”
The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.
The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.
The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.
A Troubled Legal History
Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.
In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.
An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.
In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.
In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.
Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.