The following is a statement from Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United on the controversy surrounding Starbucks’ “Race Together” initiative:
The recently announced initiative aimed at encouraging Starbucks employees and customers to talk about race may be well-intentioned. However, at best it is a small step in the right direction, and at worst a superficial distraction from underlying issues at the company and in the restaurant industry more broadly as the fastest-growing employment sector and the largest employer of people of color nationwide.
As an organization of restaurant workers with racial justice as central part of our mission, and more than a decade of studying and advocating on issues of race, we question whether Starbucks is committed to going beyond one-off conversations to examining the systemic nature of racial inequity, including the deep occupational segregation that leaves workers of color in the industry’s lowest paid jobs. Across the restaurant industry, white workers hold the vast majority of management-level positions. This is reflected in the top executive team of Starbucks, which is just 16% people of color.
A recent multi-site study conducted by ROC revealed that restaurant workers of color pay a “race tax” in the form of 56% lower earnings than white workers with the same qualifications, which amounts to a $4 wage gap between white workers and workers of color. Moreover, white job candidates are more than twice as likely as candidates of color to receive favorable treatment in the interview process. Discriminatory hiring and promotion practices are largely a result of a culture of informality in human-resource systems of the restaurant industry, including widespread absence of promotion protocols and career ladders.
“ROC works with ‘high road’ employer partners across the country who are committed to addressing racial inequity in their businesses. If Howard Schultz wants to do the same, we invite him to talk with us about how to address occupational segregation in his company and the industry as a whole — that would be the best place for them to start,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder/co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.
We encourage Starbucks and other influential companies in the restaurant industry to take positive steps toward taking the high-road to profitability, including ensuring equal opportunities and career ladders for workers of color as well as supporting policy solutions that will go much further to address the root causes of racial inequality such as raising the minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers alike to one fair, base wage that enables all workers to support themselves and their families.
Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News) ROC United has grown to over 13,000 worker-members across 26 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.