Far away from the glistening convention center in downtown Tampa Bay on Monday, there was a battle over the minimum wage as throngs of workers and progressive activists marched in driving rain outside the corporate headquarters of Bloomin’ Brands, a mega-restaurant chain owned by Bain Capital.
Nearly 200 protesters arrived at a corporate park about five miles from the convention site in the late-afternoon—only to find a massive police presence that included two helicopters circling overhead. Police and private security officers asserted that Bloomin’ Brands did not want anyone on the property and even tried to remove reporters from a public sidewalk before relenting.
When the protesters arrived, the marched in circles chanting “How many millions do you need? We've got hungry mouths to feed!” and holding up homemade signs against the soaking rain, as a perimeter of police watched. Bloomin’ Brands is the Tampa-based owner of Outback Steakhouse, Carraba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Steakhouse, and other restaurant chains, and is valued at $1.29 billion. (Bain Capital stands to earn a 88 percent return on its investment in Bloomin’ Brands, which it purchased in 2007).
Those restaurants frequently only pay the minimum wage, both for tipped and non-tipped workers. In Florida and Arizona, Bloomin’ Brands actually helped lead an effort to lower the prevailing state wages for tipped workers to the federal minimum of $2.13. This didn’t sit well with the minimum wage-earners at the protest. Simara Martinez, of Boston, MA, recently quit her job at Dunkin’ Donuts where she was paid the minimum wage for one year, before receiving only a 50-cent hourly raise. “It just doesn’t cut it, for myself or even for the house. We’re still struggling,” she said. “We pay market rent, and it’s not helpful. And I do a whole lot for the money that I get. I train people in my job.”
Though Mitt Romney was not a part of Bain Capital when it acquired Bloomin’ Brands, Martinez said she felt he is part of the same corporate philosophy. “I see the jobs he’s trying to create and now he’s trying to become president. I just don’t think that he’s going to do a good job,” she said. “He doesn’t know what it’s like to live a lifestyle where like you’ve got to feed your family and you’ve got to live paycheck to paycheck, and he doesn’t understand that.”
Others at the protest had better-paying jobs, but traveled to Tampa Bay with the help of community organizers to lend support to the effort. “I’m retired, and thank god I had a good pension, and my wife has a good job. That’s what I want for my kids and grandkids,” said John Dougherty of Latrobe, PA. “I was blessed. My generation was blessed. But if you make 7 and a quarter an hour, you make a little over $15,000 a year. How can you live on that?”
After about 30 minutes, the protesters loaded back into buses and headed seven miles away to protest a dinner for the Republican Governors Association. A helicopter overhead tracked them the entire way.