“When you go out to eat, you shouldn’t get wage theft, racism, and sick cooks in the kitchen along with your meal.” —Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation
Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) speaking at the 2011 Community Food Security Coalition meeting.
Here’s a pop quiz. What is one of the fastest growing industry sectors of the U.S. economy, and one of the few growth industries since the 2008 economic meltdown? A clue: it offers the lowest full-time employee wages, and the fewest benefits?
According to Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), it’s the restaurant industry. Despite the fact (as of 2009), 40% of the American food budget is spent outside the home, and reflects one of the fastest growth industries in the U.S. today—in terms of worker’s rights, and employee compensation, this industry simmers at the bottom of the employment stew.
90% of U.S. restaurants, Jayaraman says, in addition to providing the lowest wage jobs, fail to offer the most basic of employment benefits common to other industries. Jayaraman singles out some notable members of the sustainable food movement for their lack of engagement on this issue, stating in part,“it’s unfortunate that a lot of times the folks that promote themselves as being the best on slow and local, are some of the worst employers”.
Jayaraman has compiled data from the latest USDA statistics to provide the following facts:
- $8.90 per hour (including tips) is the median hourly wage for a restaurant worker. That means, Jayaraman says, a majority of restaurant workers (with a family of 3) “that cook, prepare, and serve our food” are receiving wages below the federal poverty line.
- Only 20 % of all restaurant jobs provide livable wage jobs, and those tend to be in a few major cities, at the more upscale restaurants that favor hiring white workers over persons of color.
- The federal minimum wage requirement for tipped workers is $2.19/hour (plus tips). Jayarman states that thousands of employed restaurant workers are homeless.
- 7 out of 10 of the lowest paying jobs in America are in the restaurant industry.
- There are 10 million restaurant workers, many of whom will remain in the restaurant business their entire lives.
ROC has just published a National Diners Guide (pdf), and a separate how-to workbook for employers in an effort to educate restaurant workers on their employment rights; employers on how they can improve their management practices; and to better inform the public, so as, to pressure restaurants to change their practices. The guide provides a rating system for 150 of the top grossing restaurants, whether they provide paid sick leave, higher guaranteed wages for tipped workers, and whether they offer an ability for employees to advance in the company. It also publicly recognizes the “high road” restaurants that have succeeded in offering better wages, and benefits to their workers, without sacrificing the bottom-line, and singles out a few of the bad actors that have been involved in lawsuits.
Restaurant workers deserve a more decent fate, and so too, do restaurant eaters.
This video is from Food First.