A Proactive Approach to Labor Law
Don “Skeeter” Miller was attending the University of Texas when the first County Line barbeque restaurant opened in 1975, and he was the first dishwasher they hired. Today he is the owner and operator of 10 Austin-area County Line restaurants with 600 employees.
The high-energy 63-year-old native of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, is passionate about his industry and the city he now calls home. And he credits his dad, a former football player for the Philadelphia Eagles, for teaching him about leadership.
Another thing Skeeter is passionate about is helping other employers understand their responsibilities under the law.
“If everyone understands their responsibility, everyone wins,” he said.
He met Lucia “Lucy” Garcia of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division at a Texas Restaurant Association event. Lucy was there to speak about wage and hour laws, and the message she shared that day about the importance of improving compliance through education and outreach resonated with him. Their initial conversation at that event turned into a fruitful relationship.
“Many restaurant owners and operators are reactive instead of proactive,” said Skeeter, regarding labor laws. But a little training and preparation can help restaurateurs comply, and Wage and Hour Division staff are a helpful resource.
Since meeting Lucy, he has been actively spreading the message to other employers about the value of working proactively with the Labor Department. He says staying up to date with all of the requirements that affect the restaurant industry is key to compliance, so his business team frequently visits www.dol.gov/whd and other Labor Department resources. When they have questions, they call the Wage and Hour Division’s Austin District Office. He also stays in contact with Lucy and other local staff to discuss the best ways to make sure restaurant employers have the info they need.
“He has been instrumental in helping the Division build a relationship with the Texas Restaurant Association and with the local restaurant chapters, and has been a pleasure to work with,” Lucy said.
The Division’s Southwest Region continues to combine enforcement with education to ensure that workers are paid the wages they have earned and that employers are provided the information and tools they need. Since January 2017, the region has concluded 1,436 investigations of employers in the restaurant industry, finding more than $8.2 million in back wages owed to more than 11,000 employees.
Going forward, Lucy says that collaborating with Skeeter and other employers will be helpful in creating compliance assistance tools tailored to the needs of the restaurant industry. “In order to truly advance our mission, we have to understand our audience and communicate clearly and openly with them,” she said. “We have to make sure we are all on the same page and speaking the same language.”
Juan J. Rodriguez is a public affairs specialist for the Labor Department in Dallas.