Author Archives: ROC United

Working Below the Line: How the Subminimum Wage for Tipped Restaurant Workers Violates International Human Rights Standards

In collaboration with the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center and the UC Berkeley International Human Rights Law Clinic, ROC United released the report “Working Below the Line” on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2015.

The report finds the two-tiered minimum wage system violates several provisions of international agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially for women and workers of color.

Under the current two-tiered wage system, federal law allows employers to pay workers who earn tips a subminimum wage of $2.13 an hour. As a result, several international human rights standards are not met for these workers, including:

- An adequate standard of living and to fair compensation: Although international labor standards require states to enable workers to maintain a suitable standard of living and to “just and favorable remuneration,” federal law allows tipped restaurant workers to be paid less than the regular minimum wage. As a result, these workers are at least two times more likely to live in poverty than the general U.S. population. “Wage theft” and other wage violations by employers is also a significant problem.

–  Protection from discrimination based on gender and race: Sexual harassment as well as gender and racial discrimination abound across the restaurant industry. One investigation concluded that workers in food services accounted for 37 percent of all claims of sexual harassment with the federal government during a 10-month period in 2011. Furthermore, workers of color in restaurant industry are concentrated in the lowest-paid “front and back of the house” occupations such as cooks, dishwashers, bussers, and runners while non-Hispanic whites are disproportionately found in higher paid “front of the house” positions like wait staff and managers.

– Health & Medical Care: Access to affordable basic and preventive healthcare is beyond the reach of many tipped restaurant workers. A 2011 survey of over 4,000 restaurant workers found that 90% did not have access to health insurance through their employer.

Find the Executive Summary here.

Find the full report here.

 

Working Below The Line

Behind the Kitchen Door: Extreme Inequality and Opportunity in Houston’s Vibrant Restaurant Economy

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Houston’s latest report is the most comprehensive examination to date of the Houston-area restaurant industry, drawing on 553 worker surveys, 27 structured interviews with restaurant workers and 13 employer interviews, along with other industry and government data. The study offers a vivid picture of the state of the industry and makes recommendations to improve Houston’s economic development, public health and workplace conditions for the city’s restaurant workers.

Houston is America’s fastest-growing city and its vibrant restaurant industry has been called the “most dynamic and diverse food and drink scene in the nation.” However, research indicates that the restaurant workers whose labor makes Houston’s growth possible are being left behind. The majority of restaurant jobs in Houston remain low-road jobs defined by low wages, few benefits, and poor working conditions.

Key findings include:

  • 51% of Houston’s restaurant workers are paid an hourly wage that would not support a family of three above the poverty level. Workers also reported overtime and minimum wage violations, a lack of training, and unsafe workplaces.

  • 51.9% of restaurant workers of color earn below poverty wages, as opposed to 34.3% of white restaurant workers. White workers earn a median wage of $11.82, compared to $8.32 among workers of color.

  • Nearly all (93.1%) of surveyed workers were not offered employer-provided health insurance, and almost two-thirds (61.3%) have no health insurance at all. As a product of not having access to healthcare or paid sick leave, many workers are preparing and handling food while sick.

The report also offers solutions specific to policymakers, employers, customers, and workers, including:

  • For workers: Policy makers should support legislation that ensures workers have access to paid sick days, increase the minimum wage, and raise the subminimum wage for tipped workers to match the overall minimum wage. They should also support job-training programs, ensure that restaurant workers and their families have affordable access to healthcare, and protect workers from erratic scheduling and violations of federal, state, and local anti-discrimination and equal employment opportunity laws.

  • For employers: Adopt systematic and fair hiring and promotions practices — including anti-discrimination and harassment policies — and enhance job quality and employee retention by increasing wages and developing scheduling practices that meet both employer and worker needs.

  • For customers: Support responsible restaurant owners who provide fair wages, benefits, and opportunities for workers to advance.Speak to employers every time you eat out and let them know you care about livable wages, benefits, and opportunities for women and people of color to advance in the restaurant industry.

Find the full report here.

Behind the Kitchen Door: The Highs and Lows of Seattle’s Booming Restaurant Economy

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Seattle’s latest report is the most comprehensive examination to date of the Seattle-area restaurant industry. The report draws on 524 worker surveys and 15 structured interviews with restaurant workers in King County, along with other industry and government data. It offers a vivid portrait of the state of the industry, and makes recommendations that will improve Seattle’s economic development, public health, as well as workplace conditions for the city’s restaurant workers.

Our research demonstrates that although the industry holds great potential in the wake of positive steps taken by legislators and high-road employers, major areas for improvement remain. Many restaurant jobs in the Seattle area are low-road jobs characterized by few benefits, low wages, and poor workplace conditions. Our report also unearths a range of serious problems related to the availability of benefits, hiring and promotion practices, workplace discrimination, and job-specific training opportunities.

Key findings include:

  • Despite promising steps to ensure higher wages, far too many low-wage restaurant employees are still not feeling the effects; 42.7% reported earning poverty wages. And despite a law requiring paid sick leave, only 37.4% of restaurant workers in Seattle are aware of the law and 73.5% report that they don’t have access to paid sick leave.

  • The vast majority of Seattle’s restaurant workers do not receive workplace benefits such as employer-provided health coverage (87.7%). In fact, 28.4% do not have any form of health insurance coverage at all, and 11.4% report having gone to the emergency room without being able to pay in the past year.

  • Seattle’s restaurant industry is anything but a level playing field for people of color and women. 56.7% of Asian workers, 59.8% of Black workers, and 77.4% of Latino workers worked in the Back of the House, compared to 47.8% of white workers. Furthermore, 38% of Front-of-the-House positions are occupied by workers of color, compared to 57.3% of Back-of-the-House positions. Women make up 22.6% of fine dining positions, compared to 57.2% of casual full-service restaurant occupations.

The report also offers possible solutions specific to policymakers, employers, customers, and workers, including:

  • For workers: Policymakers must strengthen and enforce employment laws in the restaurant industry that raise the tipped minimum wage, provide affordable access to health care, and protect workers from discrimination, harassment, and erratic scheduling. Policymakers should also increase awareness and understanding of those laws, support job training programs, and publicly support collective organizing among restaurant workers.

  • For employers: Adopt systematic and fair hiring, promotions, and scheduling practices, increase wages, and clearly communicate to workers about their benefits, as well as anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and procedures.

  • For customers: Support responsible restaurant owners who provide fair wages, benefits, and opportunities for workers to advance, and speak to employers every time you eat out and let them know you care about livable wages, benefits, and opportunities for women and people of color to advance in the restaurant industry.

Seattle has made tremendous strides toward improving working conditions for low-wage workers by enacting laws that require employers to offer paid leave, setting limits on the use of conviction and arrest records in hiring, and raising the minimum wage towards a living wage. However, there is clearly far more work to be done. We hope this report can help guide employers toward the High Road of sustainability, and legislators toward policies that ensure dignity and fairness for the city’s restaurant workers. ROC-Seattle stands ready and willing to act as a resource through every step of that process.

Find the full report here. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 29, 2015
CONTACT: Tim Rusch, 917-399-0236, tim@fitzgibbonmedia.com
Andrea Alford, 703-477-1075, andrea@fitzgibbonmedia.com

 

NEW REPORT: Few benefits, low wages, and poor workplace conditions still abound across Seattle’s restaurants
ROC-Seattle releases most comprehensive research analyses of Seattle restaurant industry
 

“Behind the Kitchen Door: The Highs and Lows of Seattle’s Booming Restaurant Economy” is available at: http://bit.ly/1GBoo3z
 
Seattle, WA — Today, Restaurant Opportunities Center of Seattle releases the most comprehensive examination to date of the Seattle-area restaurant industry. The report draws on 524 worker surveys and 15 structured interviews with restaurant workers in King County, along with other industry and government data. It offers a vivid portrait of the state of the industry, and makes recommendations that will improve Seattle’s economic development, public health, as well as workplace conditions for the city’s restaurant workers.

Our research demonstrates that although the industry holds great potential in the wake of positive steps taken by legislators and high-road employers, major areas for improvement remain. Many restaurant jobs in the Seattle area are low-road jobs characterized by few benefits, low wages, and poor workplace conditions. Our report also unearths a range of serious problems related to the availability of benefits, hiring and promotion practices, workplace discrimination, and job-specific training opportunities.

Key findings include:

  • Despite promising steps to ensure higher wages, far too many low-wage restaurant employees are still not feeling the effects; 42.7% reported earning poverty wages. And despite a law requiring paid sick leave, only 37.4% of restaurant workers in Seattle are aware of the law and 73.5% report that they don’t have access to paid sick leave.
  • The vast majority of Seattle’s restaurant workers do not receive workplace benefits such as employer-provided health coverage (87.7%). In fact, 28.4% do not have any form of health insurance coverage at all, and 11.4% report having gone to the emergency room without being able to pay in the past year.
  • Seattle’s restaurant industry is anything but a level playing field for people of color and women. 56.7% of Asian workers, 59.8% of Black workers, and 77.4% of Latino workers worked in the Back of the House, compared to 47.8% of white workers. Furthermore, 38% of Front-of-the-House positions are occupied by workers of color, compared to 57.3% of Back-of-the-House positions. Women make up 22.6% of fine dining positions, compared to 57.2% of casual full-service restaurant occupations.

The report also offers possible solutions specific to policymakers, employers, customers, and workers, including:

  • For workers: Policymakers must strengthen and enforce employment laws in the restaurant industry that raise the tipped minimum wage, provide affordable access to health care, and protect workers from discrimination, harassment, and erratic scheduling. Policymakers should also increase awareness and understanding of those laws, support job training programs, and publicly support collective organizing among restaurant workers.
  • For employers: Adopt systematic and fair hiring, promotions, and scheduling practices, increase wages, and clearly communicate to workers about their benefits, as well as anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and procedures.
  • For customers: Support responsible restaurant owners who provide fair wages, benefits, and opportunities for workers to advance, and speak to employers every time you eat out and let them know you care about livable wages, benefits, and opportunities for women and people of color to advance in the restaurant industry.

Seattle has made tremendous strides toward improving working conditions for low-wage workers by enacting laws that require employers to offer paid leave, setting limits on the use of conviction and arrest records in hiring, and raising the minimum wage towards a living wage. However, there is clearly far more work to be done. We hope this report can help guide employers toward the High Road of sustainability, and legislators toward policies that ensure dignity and fairness for the city’s restaurant workers. ROC-Seattle stands ready and willing to act as a resource through every step of that process.

Find the full report here: http://bit.ly/1GBoo3z

###

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 close to 18,000 worker-members across over 30 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.

Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry

While Jim Crow laws regulated the enforced separation between white and African American patrons in restaurants, today restaurant workers are effectively separated by race and gender by a partition between livable-wage and poverty-wage positions. 

The restaurant industry employs 11 million workers and is one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy. Despite the industry’s growth, restaurant workers occupy seven of the ten lowest-paid occupations reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the economic position of workers of color in the restaurant industry is particularly precarious. Restaurant workers experience poverty at nearly three times the rate of workers overall, and workers of color experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of white restaurant workers.

By focusing on the state with the largest restaurant industry, California, which includes several cities that are repeatedly named among the top dining destinations nationwide and one of the most diverse populations of any state in the country, the findings in this report have national significance.

Based on government data analysis, a limited pool of employer interviews, and interviews with experts, the initial findings explored in this report suggest the need for further research to more deeply understand the restaurant industry’s occupational segregation problem and how to address it.

Key findings include:

-The greatest racial and gender wage inequality is in the highest wage occupational categories—namely fine-dining server and bartender positions. The restaurants with the highest wages and greatest number of employees had the highest rates of segregation in both Front-of-the-House service positions and Back-of-the-House kitchen positions.

– Worker interviews point to real structural barriers that workers of color face in accessing livable-wage fine-dining service positions, including lack of training, social networks, transportation, childcare, interactions with the criminal justice system, and more. Those real barriers result in employers lacking pools of candidates of color for hiring into fine-dining service positions.

- In California, Latinos experience the highest levels of directly observable occupational segregation, with substantial under-representation in the higher-paying server and bartender occupations, while African Americans are largely absent altogether from meaningful participation in full-service restaurant occupations and overrepresented in limited-service/fast-food occupations.  

- As a result of this segregation, overall after adjusting for education and language proficiency, workers of color receive 56% lower earnings when compared to equally qualified white workers. Women of color, on average, earned 71% of what white men earn, amounting to a $4-per-hour wage differential.

- States like California that have higher minimum wages have lower gender and race wage inequality than the national average, but the disparity is still quite high.

Find the full report here.

NYTimes Weighs-In on Tipped Minimum Wage Fight

NY-times-2-2

The New York Times Editorial board has weighed-in, calling for the elimination of the tipped minimum wage. This is great news for restaurant workers across the nation. Here’s what they had to say:

No state should have a separate and unequal wage system in which restaurants profit by underpaying workers — nor should the nation as a whole.

This comes on the heels of restaurateur Danny Meyer’s powerful announcement that he’ll raise wages for kitchen and dining-room staff, institute policies for greater job-advancement, and end tipping at his restaurants.

There is a groundswell for eliminating the two-tiered wage system that leaves tipped workers in poverty. Let’s keep the momentum going!

Read the NYTimes piece here.