The Restaurant Industry

The restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the United States, employing more than 9 percent of the total private sector workforce in about 615,000 restaurant establishments around the country.

In major metropolitan areas, the restaurant industry has already overtaken manufacturing as a primary employer. But much of the industry’s growth has not benefited its workforce. Ten of the 20 lowest-paying jobs are in the restaurant industry, and five of these are tipped occupations.

The Other NRA: Power and Influence

The National Restaurant Association (the Other NRA), a national corporate restaurant trade lobby, funnels money to elected officials in an attempt to stop common-sense policies and legislation that would provide workers with living wages and benefits. In 2018 alone, the NRA spent a total of $13 million campaign contributions to both party candidates, including soft money and individual donors.

The NRA is the leading force in keeping the federal tipped minimum wage stuck at $2.13 per hour since 1991, and blocking minimum wage increases across the country. As a result, in multiple states and jurisdictions, local, state and federal legislators have been willing to overturn a majority vote by their own constituents in favor of the NRA’s agenda to keep wages, especially tipped workers’ wages, as low as possible, prevent paid sick leave, paid family leave and health care reform, and stop a wide variety of other laws designed to protect people, the environment, and animals.

Restaurant Workers

Over 13 million workers are directly employed in food preparation and serving occupations. Fifty-two percent of all workers who are at or below the minimum wage are in the restaurant industry, yet restaurant workers make up only 15 percent of all workers in all occupations earning an hourly wage.

Gainfully employed restaurant workers live in poverty at over twice the rate of the rest of the workforce (19.2 percent compared to 7.9 percent).

  • A majority of restaurant workers — 54 percent— are women. Over two-thirds (67 percent) of restaurant workers who rely on tips are women.
  • Women-servers earn only 79 percent of their male counterparts wages.
  • Employed women servers working full time, year round in subminimum wage states toil in poverty at nearly twice the rate of their peers in One Fair Wage states.

Although the law requires employers to make up the difference when tips are not sufficient to reach the minimum wage, in practice employers often fail to comply with the law. A federal review of 9,000 full-service restaurants in 2010–2012 found that nearly 84 percent had committed wage and hour violations, including 1,170 cases where tipped wages were calculated improperly, and led to $5.5 million in back pay and $2.5 million in penalties.

Our campaign aims to:

  • Address racial segregation in the industry through a combination of policies and programs that increase worker training and certification in livable wage job skills, push and train employers to desegregate their restaurants, and engage consumers in supporting restaurants that desegregate.
  • Mandate transparent, formalized hiring, promotion, and training processes.
    Increase awareness and understanding of local labor laws.
  • Strengthen and extend existing legislation to facilitate greater access to healthcare and scheduling rights among all restaurant workers in the Bay Area.
  • Ensure workers have a voice in ownership and control over gratuities and service charges left on their behalf.

Complete Wage

ROC United advocates for a complete wage, including:

  • A living wage
  • Non-wage benefits, like paid sick and vacation leave, retirement benefits, healthcare, and childcare
  • Racial and gender equity
  • Fair scheduling
  • Harassment-free workplace environment

California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Nevada, Montana, and Minnesota have already established a full minimum wage rate for all workers. Compared with other states that have as low as $2.13 federal subminimum wage, these states have shown:

  • Higher restaurant sales
  • Higher average employment growth for tipped workers, and Higher growth in the number of servers

Over two-thirds of the nation’s 6 million tipped workers are women, 36 percent of whom are mothers. The subminimum tipped wage amounts to legislated pay inequity, perpetuating the gender pay gap and leading to higher rates of poverty. And tipped workers in states with a subminimum wage are more than twice as likely to live in poverty and rely on public assistance as the rest of the workforce.

On July 18, 2019, the United States House of Representatives made a historic vote on the Raise the Wage Act of 2019 (HR 582), which includes Complete Wage, marking a milestone towards increasing the federal minimum wage for all workers, including tipped workers, nationwide and lifting millions of families out of poverty. The Raise the Wage Act would raise the federal minimum wage for non-tipped workers gradually from $7.25 to $15 per hour by 2024 and for tipped workers from $2.13 an hour to $15 an hour.

End Harassment in the Restaurant Industry

Women in the restaurant, leisure and hospitality industries, where the majority of tipped workers are concentrated, account for 14 percent of all sexual harassment claims – the most of any industry and double the rate of the general U.S. workforce. According to survey data, women who had previously worked as tipped workers were 1.6 times as likely to live with inappropriate behaviors in the workplace as women who were currently employed as tipped workers.

Experiences of harassment had an economic impact, as many workers felt forced to leave jobs, or left them with limited choices and few options, stuck in an abusive workplace or relationship. ROC United has confronted such epidemic by mobilizing people to pass laws and policies that would transform working conditions and protect women and restaurant workers from future harm.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray introduced, in April 2019, the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination (BE HEARD) in the Workplace Act, which would bring critical policy reforms to address and prevent workplace harassment, including extending anti-harassment protections to workers. 

The BE HEARD Act would:

  • Expand anti-harassment protections to tens of millions of workers.
  • Make it easier to report and hold harassers accountable, including more time for survivors to come forward.
  • Fund grants for legal assistance for low-income workers.
  • Limit non-disclosure agreements (famously used by Harvey Weinstein) so survivors can’t be silenced
  • Raise the subminimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 to the full minimum wage.

Fair Scheduling

Over 9 million restaurant workers are affected by unfair and unpredictable work scheduling practices, with at least half of them earlier in their career receive less than one week notice on schedules. ROC United has spearheaded campaign policies to enforce fair and just scheduling practices, create a level playing field for people of color, and eventually improve earnings and working conditions for low-wage restaurant workers.

Twenty-six percent of tipped restaurant workers experience frequent changes in their schedule, and an additional 50 percent of tipped workers sometimes experience changes in their schedule, compared to 16 percent and 43 percent of restaurant workers that do not receive tips. The majority of tipped workers are effectively expected to be on-call by their employers.

Racial Equity

Occupational segregation by race has emerged as one of the highest priority challenges faced by those who work in the restaurant industry nationwide. 

ROC United has documented the extent of racial discrimination and occupational segregation in the industry, which revealed significant racial wage gaps, barriers to people of color to advance to living-wage jobs, and explicit and implicit biases of restaurant employers and consumers that segregate the restaurant workforce.

White workers are more likely to work in higher-paying, front-of-the-house positions, like bartenders and servers. Over half of all bartenders are white, despite being less than a quarter of the restaurant workforce overall. Additionally, workers of color are less likely to receive a raise or promotion than their white counterparts.

Access to Childcare

Due to federal and state spending decisions, many essential supports for women and children, including child care assistance are being scaled back. This comes at a dire time, when poverty and hunger among children is increasing. 

As a result, working mothers in the restaurant industry reported that they face three barriers to meeting their child care: 1. Affordability of childcare; 2. Accessibility, and 3. Career mobility.

To address these issues and find solutions to the problem, ROC United has been fighting for employer subsidies and more public funding for child care, accessible care during nontraditional hours, predictable schedules for working mothers and have child care access close to or at home.

Employment Benefits

For the majority of restaurant workers, the restaurant industry is the primary source of employment. About 15 percent of them relied on more than one job, balancing two to three, in order to make ends meet. But because most of them earn a subminimum wage and have no benefits — paid sick leave, vacation days and retirement benefits — it makes their situation unsustainable and experience a significant work/life imbalance. 

ROC United supports federal and state efforts to pass an earned sick day standard, such as the Healthy Families Act, vacation and retirement benefits. Some of these policies that we push include:

  • Allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year to be used to recover from their own illness, access preventive care, or provide care for a sick family member.
  • Allow workers who are victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault to use their paid sick days to recover or seek assistance related to an incident.
  • Include a simple method for calculating accrued sick time. Workers would earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours (seven days) per year, unless the employer selects a higher limit.

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