Tag Archives: Health and Safety

Backed into the Corner: Serving While Sick in Miami-Dade

Over the past three decades as the restaurant industry has become the third largest private sector in the Miami-Dade region, employing 72,700 workers. The lack of earned paid sick days combined with low wages forces many Miami-Dade restaurant workers into a corner — they have to choose to whether to lose pay when they’re sick or go to work sick — most have no choice, they must work to survive.

Nearly 90% of restaurant workers nationwide have no access to earned paid sick days, and 64% have worked while sick, according to extensive surveying of thousands of restaurant workers by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, as well as the National Institute of Health’s National Health Interviews Survey.

Miami-Dade County closely mirrors national conditions. The report shows how in the nation’s largest industries, as wages decrease, so does access to earned paid sick days. The workers who need relief the most, have it the least. For Miami-Dade restaurant workers making less than $10.00 an hour, only 11.4 % have access to earned paid sick days, compared to 45.3% of other service and retail workers making higher wages, above $15.00 dollars an hour.

The report also reveals the dangerous health hazards and risk of spreading illness that result when restaurant workers work while they are sick – creating consequences for themselves, their coworkers, the restaurant, and consumers alike.

Erica Sommer, a bartender in Miami, who worked three days with typhoid fever and a fever of 103.7, knows what it is like to be really sick at work, but losing a day’s pay and going home was not an option for her. She said, “No one should have to work sick, particularly restaurant workers serving the public. It feels terrible and puts everyone in danger.”

Key findings in the report include:

  • Nine out of ten Miami restaurant workers have no access to earned paid sick days, and 47.6% report having worked while sick. Three quarters of those that worked sick did so because they could not afford to take the day off.
  • 74% of workers that worked sick cited they could not afford to take the day off without pay.
  • One in five workers that worked while sick cited fear of retribution from their employers as a reason for not staying home. Over 20% of all workers surveyed were uncomfortable asking for time off when sick and another 15% did not think they could do so.
  • Many workers also struggled without a system for workers to find a replacement. One in ten workers that worked sick could not a replacement and did not want to overburden their coworkers.

Serving While Sick: Effect on Workers and Consumers.

  • Among the 47.6% of workers surveyed that worked sick, 65.5% said their work productivity was negatively affected and two-fifths had longer illnesses as a consequence of working, increasing the negative consequences for themselves and their family.
  • Over 40% of those workers surveyed that worked sick reported coughing or sneezing while handling food. And over 10% reported infection their co-workers.

Industry in Need of Reform for Diners and Workers Alike.

  • More than one in ten workers reported pressure to cut corners in a way that could potentially harm customers, and a full 5% reported serving potentially contaminated food – expired, dirty or leftover food to diners.

Miami-Dade Restaurant Workers Need Access to Health Insurance.

  • An overwhelming majority of Miami’s restaurant workers that were surveyed, 63.6%, said they had no access to health insurance.
  • Only 8.8% of workers worked for employers that provided full or partial health insurance.
  • Among workers surveyed with no health insurance, nearly half, 46.1% reported never having seen a doctor.
  • Another 34% have gone to free or discount clinics, and another 16% depended on the emergency room for their healthcare needs.
  • And overall, 24% of all workers surveyed visited an emergency room to obtain health coverage in the past year, and nearly one half were unable to pay adding to the strain to an already overstrained healthcare system.

Download the full report here

Dining Out Eating Healthy Featured Image

Dining Out, Dining Healthy: The Link Between Public Health and Working Conditions in New York City’s Restaurant Industry

New York City’s restaurants are vital to our economy. But there is a growing problem that is threatening to undermine the vitality of the industry: restaurant owners that maintain bad dining and working conditions, thereby putting the public’s health at risk.

In this report, we show that restaurant employers who violate labor laws – for example, by paying less than the minimum wage or failing to pay overtime – present a serious danger to the public health. That’s because these employers are pursuing a “low-road” business strategy, which depends on putting enormous pressure on workers and cutting costs on training and wages. The result is a set of workplace practices that endanger food safety, and therefore, the public health.

Our findings are based on two surveys of a total of 880 restaurant workers in New York City, conducted between June 2003 and February 2005. In these surveys, we compared restaurant workers who experienced many labor law violations at their job to those who experienced few labor law violations.

We found that workers who experienced many labor law violations were:

• Six times more likely to report that they frequently had to cut corners because of time pressures, in ways that might have harmed the health or safety of customers.

• Twice as likely not to receive health and safety training from their employer.

• Three times more likely to report that they frequently had to perform several jobs at once.

• Three times more likely to report that they frequently had to work when their restaurant was understaffed.

• Four times more likely to report that they frequently had to do a job for which they weren’t trained.

These low-road business practices were strongly correlated with reports by workers that they had to engage in unsafe food preparation, including:

• Serving dirty, expired, spoiled or leftover food to a customer

• Handling food improperly

• Sneezing, coughing or spitting on food

Finally, analysis of official data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirms the close connection between health code violations and unsafe workplace practices on the one hand, and labor law violations on the other.

In response, the New York City Restaurant Industry Coalition calls for public policies to promote good workplace practices in the restaurant industry. We must ensure that employers who have been adjudicated for violating labor and health and safety regulations – and who are therefore putting the consumer at risk – are not able to continue business as usual. Such policies will help the restaurant industry become a safer, more transparent, and ultimately stronger part of New York City’s economy.

Read and/or download the full report here

Contagion: Not Just a Movie

Contagion: Not Just a Movie tells the real story of how flu epidemics can spread. During the H1N1 outbreak, 7 million Americans caught the flu from their co-workers – in part because so many hard-working people without paid sick days were unable to stay home sick without being fired or losing a day’s wage.

Watch the real stories of five of the 44 million people who have been forced to go into work when they are sick because they couldn’t afford to or weren’t allowed to take time off.

We all have a stake in paid sick days.


*More than 44 million workers do not have paid sick days.
*Workers earning low-wages are the least likely to have paid sick days. Only 19 percent of low-wage workers have access to paid sick days.
*Many workers with a significant interaction with the public do not have paid sick days. *This includes three in four food service workers, three in five personal health care workers and three in four child care workers.
*1 in 6 workers have been fired or threatened with being fired for taking time off work to care for a personal or family illness.

National Day of Action Gets Major Media Coverage

The National Day of Action was covered by over a dozen national and local media sources. Below is a listing of the most relevant ones.


Time – http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/02/17/remember-to-tip-report-shows-waiters-are-underpaid-overworked-and-unequally-treated/

Labor Notes – http://labornotes.org/2011/02/restaurant-employees-call-higher-wages-tipped-workers

Daily Kos – http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/02/16/945486/-Minority-restaurant-workers-get-the-shaft-

Miami Herald – http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/02/14/2065332/miami-dade-restaurant-workers.html

WTOP – http://www.wtop.com/category/District-of-Columbia/20110214/Waiters-rally-for-higher-wages-on-restaurants%27-busiest-day/

CareerDiva – http://www.evetahmincioglu.com/web/blog/2011/02/14/valentines-dinner-no-champagne-for-busboy/

LA Times – http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/dailydish/2011/02/new-study-treatment-of-los-angeles-restaurant-workers.html

Washington Post – http://voices.washingtonpost.com/all-we-can-eat/books/lunch-room-chatter-the-47-poun.html

Kansas City Star – http://economy.kansascity.com/?q=node/9829

LA Times – http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/2011/02/behind_the_kitchen_door_roc-la_report_reveals_restaurant_industry_inequality.php

Florida Trend – http://www.floridatrend.com/article.asp?aID=54534

Colorlines Magazine – http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/02/dont_just_tip_your_waiter_demand_equity_for_restaurant_workers.html

NBC Washington – http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local-beat/Local-Leads-21411-116158779.html

FOX DC — http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpp/news/dc/dc-restaurant-workers-pick-valentines-day-to-complain-about-low-wages-021411

We Love DC — http://www.welovedc.com/2011/02/14/study-of-dc-restaurant-workers-shows-widespread-abuse-and-health-risks/

Alternet - http://www.alternet.org/rss/breaking_news/473874/don%27t_just_tip_your_waiter._demand_equity_for_restaurant_workers/


Village Voice – http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2011/02/white_restauran.php

In These Timeshttp://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/6967/no_romance_in_valentines_day_for_restaurant_workers/

Science Blogs - http://scienceblogs.com/thepumphandle/2011/02/behind_the_kitchen_door_low_wa.php?utm_source=editorspicks

The Glutster Blog — http://theglutster.com/2011/02/restaurantequality/

Epoch — http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/united-states/restaurant-workers-lobby-for-minimum-wage-increase-51625.html

The Eater — http://eater.com/archives/2011/02/17/surprise-restaurant-workers-lack-sick-days-and-health-insurance.php

WUSA — http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=136704&catid=28

On Restaurants’ Busiest Day of the Year, Some Workers Not Earning a Living Wage


 *** PRESS RELEASE ***    

Restaurant Workers in Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, DC Forced to Work While Sick, Undergo Racial Discrimination and

Experience Unsafe Working Conditions, New Reports Say

Three new reports on the wages and working conditions of restaurant workers in Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, DC, plus a National Executive Summary on the restaurant industry, were released today at city-wide summits organized by Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United (http://www.rocunited.org/).

These summits, attended by hundreds of people in the restaurant industry, are part of a national effort to urge Congress to pass the WAGES Act — H.R. 631 — recently introduced by Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD), which would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in twenty years.Although Valentine’s Day is the highest grossing day of the year for restaurants, many employees only earn a base salary of $2.13 per hour – the current minimum wage for tipped workers.Speakers at the summits included: Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed; Assistant Secretary of Labor Bill Spriggs; and Tom Saenz, General Counsel of the Mexican American Defense & Education League (MALDEF).

In addition to the three summits in Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, DC, restaurant workers lobbied today in favor of the WAGES Act in Chicago (with Congressman Danny Davis and several state legislators), New York (with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke), New Orleans (with Congressman Cedric Richmond); Detroit (with Congressman Hansen Clarke); Atlanta (with Congressman John Lewis); as well as in Florida (with Congressman David Rivera) and Arkansas (with Senator Mark Pryor).

“For too long restaurant employees have suffered injustices, lacking paid sick days and a livable wage,” said ROC United Director Saru Jayaraman.“It is outrageous that the minimum wage for tipped workers has not increased in two decades.”

The three reports released today, entitled “BEHIND THE KITCHEN DOOR: Inequality & Opportunity in Los Angeles, Miami and Washington DC’s Thriving Restaurant Industries” are based on 1,704 surveys of restaurant workers and interviews with nearly 100 employers. They have been compiled with similar reports by ROC in five other cities into a National Executive Summary based on more than 4,300 surveys and 240 employers nationwide. The studies demonstrate that workers in one of the nation’s largest sectors overwhelmingly lack paid sick days, fair wages and access to health insurance.Tipped workers have not received a government mandated wage increase since 1991; and worse, 11 percent of food workers in Washington, DC, 4 percent in Los Angeles, and 7 percent in Miami, are illegally not earning the minimum wage, even after including tips in their salary.

The WAGES Act would raise the minimum wage of tipped employees from the current level of $2.13 per hour to $3.75 per hour three months after enactment. By 2013 the tipped minimum wage would increase to at least $5.50 per hour.

“The Working for Adequate Gains for Employment in Services (WAGES) Act makes significant steps toward restoring fairness to our minimum wages and ensures that tipped workers are compensated for honest work,” said Congresswoman Edwards. “For far too long, American service sector employees, and particularly tipped workers have been left behind. I am proud to have authored this legislation and look forward to continuing this fight in the 112th Congress. No one should be denied fair wages.”

Other recommendations from “BEHIND THE KITCHEN DOOR” include:

Providing Paid Sick Days—In Miami, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC (where the local paid sick days law excludes tipped servers and bartenders), nearly 90% of restaurant workers do not receive any paid sick days. Thus, more than half of workers interviewed admitted to working in a restaurant while sick. The lack of paid sick days can result in hidden public health and societal costs to the consumer and taxpayer.

Penalizing Racial Discrimination – In both Washington, DC and Los Angeles, more than one-third of workers reported race-based verbal abuse.In Miami, more than 40 percent reported abuse motivated by race. Workers reportedly receive lower pay, harassment and lack of promotion based on certain demographics. Policymakers must explore initiatives that encourage internal promotion and discourage discrimination on the basis of race, gender and immigration status in the restaurant industry.

Enforcing Health & Safety Laws - Health and safety violations reported by restaurant workers include: fire hazards; missing mats on the floor to prevent slipping; and missing guards on cutting machines.Respectively, 24 percent, 22 percent, and 26 percent of respondents in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Miami have had no instruction or training on workplace safety.

Implementing Model Employer Practices – There is a wide disparity between restaurants that provide “high road” benefits to employees, and those that take the “low road” in terms of workplace treatment. Restaurants like Teaism in Washington, DC promote ethical treatment of employees. In Los Angeles, 18% of workers reported earning a livable wage. In Miami, one anonymous employer at a family style restaurant pays a minimum of $8 per hour for a dishwasher job, much above the minimum wage. This is proof that it can work.


Serving While Sick - High Risks & Low Benefits for the Nation's Restaurant Featured Image

Serving While Sick

In 2010 ROC United released Serving While Sick, a national study on health and safety conditions in the restaurant industry.  The report was based on 4,323 worker surveys on general working conditions, 240 employer interviews, 240 worker interviews, 500 worker surveys specifically on health insurance needs, and 20 employer interviews on health insurance needs.  The findings showed the effects of high risks of injury and illness and low access to benefits for America’s restaurant workforce.  They demonstrated the need for mandatory paid sick days laws to alleviate the burdens of restaurant workers and the risk of communicable diseases to the public, as well as the need for access to healthcare for restaurant workers.

Our Findings

  • 87.7% of restaurant workers surveyed reported not having paid sick days.
  • 63% of restaurant workers reported cooking and serving food while sick.
  •  Almost 90% of restaurant workers reported not having health insurance through their employer.  Those without insurance were three times as likely to visit the emergency room without being able to pay.
  • A majority of workers surveyed reported facing high rates of exposure to dangerous working conditions: 38.1% reported doing something while working to put their own safety at risk, 49.5% had been cut on the job, and 45.8% had been burned on the job.
  • Workers that faced employment law violations in the workplace were much more likely to work under conditions that have negative consumer impacts.

Download the Executive Summary here.

Download the full report here.