Restaurant Injustice

Friends, there are egregious injustices in the restaurant industry. “Our food system now treats millions of workers like disposable commodities, paying them poverty wages, denying them medical benefits and sick pay, and tolerating racism and sexism on the job. . . .
  • "Today it’s not uncommon for celebrity chefs to earn millions of dollars a year, while the dishwashers and bussers in their kitchens get a wage of $2.13 an hour, plus a meager share of the tips. The typical restaurant worker makes about $15,000 a year, roughly one-third the annual income of the average American worker. And for decades the restaurant industry has led the battle against increasing the federal minimum wage. Only 20 percent of restaurant jobs pay a livable wage, and women, people of color, and immigrants, face significant barriers in obtaining those livable-wage jobs.”
  • “Dishwashers, who earn minimum wage or less, are almost always the darkest-skinned immigrants or people of color in a restaurant. . . . Only 6.1 percent of all dishwashers were white. Almost one-third [of restaurant workers] report they have been passed over for a promotion because of their race.” Overall, there’s a $4 an hour wage gap between white workers and workers of color.
  • For 90 percent of restaurant workers, there are no paid sick days. And the low pay ensures that few can afford a day off. So they work sick. Coughing, sneezing, runny nose – they can’t just go home, and they’re handling our food. The Center for Disease Control can’t track down the source of every cold and flu that a restaurant customer gets as a result – but they do tell us that 1 in 6 Americans suffers from food poisoning each year, and 3,000 of us die from it. “In summer 2011, thousands of people were exposed to hepatitis in an Olive Garden restaurant in Fayetteville, North Carolina, because a server couldn’t take a day off from work without losing his job.”
Summer 2011? Oh, yeah. I was just down the road in Charlotte, North Carolina for part of that summer, casting my vote in support of a Statement of Conscience on ethical eating.

“Wage theft affects over 50 percent of restaurant workers nationwide.” Wage theft takes a number forms:
  • Requiring workers to clock out and then keep working.
  • Not paying overtime.
  • Management illegally taking a share of the tips – or, in the case of certain banquet arrangements, sometimes all of the tips.
  • Requiring workers to report more tips than they actually make so that the management doesn’t have to make up the difference between the $2.13 wage rate and the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
These practices are rampant in the restaurant industry. Fixing all this is not so hard:
  • Enforce the laws against wage theft.
  • Set the same minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers.
  • Establish paid sick leave.
Seven states – all western or Midwestern – Minnesota, Montana, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada – “have the same minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers, and all have thriving restaurant industries. Some restaurant owners are finding that paying their workers a decent wage is, indeed, a win-win proposition because better paid workers means less turn-over, a more harmonious work environment, workers that feel invested in the business.

One such restaurant owner said,
“When you support food justice, you’re going to eat better. With just wages, there’s not as much worker turnover, and so the food is better. When you work at one place for a long time, it becomes a craft.”
Justice literally tastes good!

A restaurant owner who doubled the workers wages today would take a hit in the short term, but over the long term, the reduced costs of turn-over, and the higher productivity would return the restaurant to profitability – without increasing the prices to the customer.

(Quotes are from Saru Jayaraman, Behind the Kitchen Door.)

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This is part 3 of 4 of "Behind the Kitchen Door"
Next: Part 4: "Food That Is Good"
Previous: Part 2: "Where American Culture Happens"
Beginning: Part 1: "Ethical Eating...Out"

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