Why are we asking for job equity for restaurant workers on Black History Month

Today, as we mark the beginning of Black History Month, we honor the remarkable story and contributions of Black people reflected in the fabric of American life. We recognize the greatest movements and institutions that Blacks have built to stress the significance of justice and freedom, resiliency and fair rights under the law.

But on this momentous day, we also want to face the hard truth and reflect on the long-standing race and gender-based inequities that restaurant workers experience each day—from widening pay gaps and discriminatory hiring and promotion processes to the lack of access to job benefits.

Inequities are still rampant in the restaurant industry, so rampant that we actually don’t need a handful of facts and numbers to know this. We only need to listen to the stories of restaurant workers who experience it every day in many different ways.

Our findings show that restaurant workers, particularly women and people of color, continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic. The likelihood of restaurant workers refusing to return or even leaving the industry remains high unless employers and the government ensure robust employee protections, including paid leave policies, an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, expanded access to healthcare, and higher wages compensating for lost income and ongoing health risks.

As we ponder on the significance of Black History Month, we must recognize that restaurant workers, many of whom have been doing their jobs for at least a decade, are the same as those in other industries who deserve equitable pay, paid time off, health care, and other job protections to ensure quality life for themselves and their families.

Providing workers the job protections they need also benefits restaurant employers: it brings positive cultural changes, emboldens trust and morale within the company and, in turn, attracts and retains more competent workers. Who would not want to work in a restaurant where workers are respected and dignified, their voices are heard and recognized, and where there is clarity about how their pay is set?

Black History Month is a critical opportunity to articulate a strong vision for the restaurant workers. The industry is not yet color-blind, as shown by the high rates of occupational segregation, but we can make our economy work equally for everyone. We can work together to create good and inclusive jobs that enable workers to thrive, companies to be more productive and profitable, and communities to benefit from healthy, sustainable economies.

We know we can.

In solidarity,

Dr. Sekou Siby