• Press

November 12, 2015
CONTACT: Tim Rusch, 917-399-0236, tim@fitzgibbonmedia.com
Andrea Alford, 703-477-1075, andrea@fitzgibbonmedia.com

NEW REPORT: Low wages, few benefits, and poor working conditions rampant across Houston restaurant industry
ROC-Houston releases comprehensive research analyses of Houston restaurant industry

“Behind the Kitchen Door: Extreme Inequality and Opportunity in Houston’s Vibrant Restaurant Economy” is available at: https://rocunited.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/BKD_Houston_Report_LR2.pdf

Seattle, WA — Today, Restaurant Opportunities Center of Houston will release 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 report 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.

“Houston’s booming restaurant industry generates $11.2 billion in annual revenue and accounts for an estimated $699 million in sales tax for the state and $124 million for the city,” said Saru Jayaraman, Co-founder and Co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. “Yet, despite the industry’s importance for the regional economy, working conditions in Houston’s restaurants remain poor. We hope this report will guide employers toward the High Road of sustainability, and legislators toward policies that ensure dignity and fairness for the city’s restaurant workers.”

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.
  • In Houston, where restaurants can pay tipped workers as little as 2.13 per hour, tipped workers earn a median wage of 8.96 per hour, including tips. Over two-thirds of those tipped workers are women.
  • Women tipped workers earn 8.30 per hour, including tips. These numbers are even worse for women of color. As a result of these women having to live off tips to make ends meet, women tipped workers in Houston were twice as likely to report experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, as opposed to women nationally.
  • 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.

Possible solutions for workers, policy makers, employers, and customers include:

  • 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.

Reactions from local advocates regarding “Behind the Kitchen Door: Extreme Inequality and Opportunity in Houston’s Vibrant Restaurant Economy”:

“Restaurant workers play such a critical role in Houston’s economy. They deserve jobs that can sustain their families; jobs that help them thrive, not just survive. Our next mayor has the opportunity to champion an agenda to make our local economy work for all Houstonians and not just an elite few. That means leveraging economic development funding to create good jobs that pay well and provide benefits. Such standards are desperately needed in industries like the service sector as this report demonstrates.”
Tarsha Jackson, Harris County Director, Texas Organizing Project

“In order to continue positioning Houston as a global metropolis among the top cities where to live and work in the world it is essential that the dignity of restaurant workers and their families be respected. The current situation of our growing and vibrant restaurant industry reflects the beautiful diversity of our population but it does not yet reflect the values of justice and equity we all want for our city. Restaurant owners and restaurant customers alike should remember that when they choose the high road, everybody wins!”
Pancho Argüelles, Executive Director, Living Hope Wheelchair Association

“All restaurant workers in Houston should be treated with dignity and respect.  They should be paid enough money to support themselves and their families.  They should be trained so they can work safely on the job, and they should have access to affordable health care. These are basic human rights. When the restaurant workers of Houston do well, all of Houston does well. This is a fact, this is reality.”
Dave Atwood, Houston Peace and Justice Center

“This report demonstrates the power of social science research to reveal the inequities based on gender and race in the workplace. Its policy recommendations apply not only to restaurant workers but to many low-wage worksites in our city.”
Christine Kovic, PhD, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Houston-Clear Lake

Find the full report here: https://rocunited.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/BKD_Houston_Report_LR2.pdf


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 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.