Diner's guide to working conditions of American restaurants

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Diner's guide to working conditions of American restaurants

Restaurant Opportunities Center United publishes its 2011 edition of Diner's Guide to the Working Conditions of American Restaurants [PDF]

Quote:
With over 10 million workers nationwide, the U.S. restaurant industry is one 

of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of the American economy, even 

during the current economic crisis. Unfortunately, despite the industry’s 

growth, restaurant workers suffer under poverty wages and poor working 

conditions. In particular, the industry suffers from:

1 LOW WAGES With a federal minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped workers 

and $7.25 for non-tipped workers, the median wage for restaurant workers 

is $8.90, just below the poverty line for a family of three. This means that 

more than half of all restaurant workers nationwide earn less than the 

federal poverty line.

2 NO PAID SICK LEAVE 90% of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers 

surveyed by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) report not having 

paid sick leave, and two-thirds report cooking, preparing, and serving food 

while sick, making sick leave for restaurant workers not only a worker rights 

issue but a pressing concern in public health! 

3 OCCUPATIONAL SEGREGATION Women, immigrants, and people 

of color hold lower-paying positions in the industry, and do not have many 

opportunities to move up the ladder. Among the 4,300 workers surveyed, 

we found a $4 wage gap between white workers and workers of color, and 

73% reported not receiving regular promotions on the job.

Issues Pages: 
milo204

is there something like this for canada?

toochewed

milo204 wrote:

is there something like this for canada?

I dunno but

Numbers 1 and 2 sound right for Canada . Number three I couldn't tell you ....

Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Unionist

Great site, CF. I've downloaded their other oeuvres (The Housing Monster and Work Community Politics War) for more leisurely reading later.

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Yes, it looks like a great resource. And teaching capitalism through restaurants--how insightful! There are few people who don't participate visibly in that institution, often in many ways. I worked in many terrible restaurants to make a living before attending university, and who doesn't eat out? Rich or poor, we all take part.

Sven Sven's picture

Catchfire wrote:

Abolish restaurants.

I scanned through the document but downloaded a PDF file for printing later.

So, what would replace restaurants?  State-run foodservice operations?

Slumberjack

Of course not.  That would be socialism.  Charity run soup kitchens.  Standing room only.

lagatta

Of course solutions come out of struggles, but the document was very fuzzy about what would replace restaurants in a post-capitalist society.

Pre-capitalist society usually saw people working close to home, whether in fields or artisanal production.

I don't eat out very often (I'm a good cook, and have Jean-Talon Market nearby) but sometimes one is too far away from one's abode and has to eat.

And, as the document says, going out to a restaurant can be a way of socialising (without inviting people into our homes). Sometimes this is for good reason - maintaining some distance between colleagues, checking out a date (social and safety issues) etc.

Sven Sven's picture

lagatta wrote:

And, as the document says, going out to a restaurant can be a way of socialising (without inviting people into our homes). Sometimes this is for good reason - maintaining some distance between colleagues, checking out a date (social and safety issues) etc.

Another good reason: Sometimes, a person just doesn't feel like cooking.

Sven Sven's picture

Slumberjack wrote:

Of course not.  That would be socialism.  Charity run soup kitchens.  Standing room only.

Well, as lagatta pointed out, the piece was "very fuzzy about what would replace restaurants in a post-capitalist society".

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Before food reaches a restaurant kitchen, it has to come from somewhere, and the working conditions of farm labour needs to be considered as well. I'm reading an article in a Toronto church paper (The Anglican) about the 20,000 Mexican farm workers that travel to Ontario every year - local churches try to make conditions better for them by providing help with transportation needs, translation services, and practical and personal matters.

In the 1960s one of my relatives worked alongside Mexican tobacco pickers on a huge farm in southern Ontario - he described conditions back then as "rough". I gather working conditions on farms for foreign labourers has improved, according to the article I am reading.

lagatta

Boom Boom, churches, labour and immigrant-solidarity groups have been working for decaded on the issue, with some positive results, though there is still a great deal of injustice.

Moreover, farm owners and dealers in temporary labour have been looking south of Mexico to poorer countries in Central America for farm labourers.

There is just as much abuse of Mexican and Central American workers in Québec as anywhere else in Canada, but cultural proximity has made for some positive outcomes; Catholic parishes get a boost during farming season in many small Québec villages, and some of these Latin-language-speaking Catholics have married into local farm families.

The restaurant story does allude to the labour involved in producing foodstuffs, but of course it did have to limit its scope and centre on "hospitality industry" workers. These are not usually temporary migrants, but a great many are immigrants. And as the story touches upon, more than a few restaurant owners also hail from certain immigrant groups (we think in particular of Greek people, who worked in and later owned "diners" but also introduced many Greek dishes and actually improved "ordinary" restaurant food by serving more vegetables).

Often there is a racist hierarchy. I've often noticed Black African workers in the "back" (kitchen area) in France and Italy. Maghrebi (North African) workers were more often waiters and other "visible" staff; in Italy they could almost "pass" as southern Italians.

The story is relevant in terms of union organising, and all the micro-hierarchies and divisions among the staff. In hotels and large restaurants, there is also the phenomenon of banquet staff having different conditions from those who work day-in, day-out in stable restaurants.

But of course this document is very radical and wants to go beyond restaurants and wage labour, or at least envision a post-capitalist and post-restaurant world. I don't think the need for somewhere (hopefully pleasant) where people can eat when away from home for various reasons will ever disappear.

Sven, true. However there are far more ready-made meals and takeaway/delivery services now than even a couple of decades ago. Some actually profess to provide food that is nutritious as well as tasty, but many provide flavour by piling on salt, hidden sugars and fat.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Thanks for your posts, lagatta. @Sven, in case it's not obvious from the zine's title, the premise is deliberately provocative. It's chief aim is not, in fact, to abolish any place where people can meet in public and eat, but to examine and analyze capitalism from a paridigmatic instance with which nearly everyone is familiar in some way: restaurants. It shows that the shitty conditions present at least to some degree in every single restaurant in existence is not just serial bad luck, but built in to the architechture of our society and how we define "restaurant." It's basically the same idea as when David Harvey asks "where does your breakfast come from?"

In short, the idea is not to abolish restaurants, but to abolish the way we currently conceive and practice them.

Sven Sven's picture

Catchfire wrote:

In short, the idea is not to abolish restaurants, but to abolish the way we currently conceive and practice them.

Fair enough -- but the new model of the restaurant would be, what, state-owned food outlets?

Slumberjack

Ideally there'd be a massive unionization drive across the entire sector, followed by collective agreements to improve wages and working conditions, or else.  Service sector industries have been getting away with murder and massive profits for decades.  It's well past time for a re-balancing.

Sven Sven's picture

Slumberjack wrote:

Service sector industries have been getting away with murder and massive profits for decades.

I think that's true for large chains but, in the USA, for example, there are over a half million restaurants, a significant percentage of which are one-shop operations and not necessarily making "massive profits".  As an example, a woman who works with me jointly owns a sandwich shop with her husband.  They barely get by paying the rent, property taxes, food, utilities, labor, etc. costs -- such that they essentially live off of her income and he makes nothing (and they have the debt of the restaurant, so they can't just walk away unless they want to also walk away from their house).  Double their labor costs and they, along with tens of thousands of other restaurants, would be out of business (and employees who were making a low wage -- most of whom are kids -- would be making no wages).  So, would you envision having a requirement where all foodservice employees, whether at a chain or a one-shop operation, would be required to be paid a unionized wage?

Maybe that's the right thing to do.  But, with the youth (ages 16 - 24 years) unemployment rate at 50% right now, that would just futher spike unemployment, no?

Unionist

Yeah, societies with high levels of unionization suffer chronic massive unemployment.

As for your sandwich shop friends, if they can't afford to buy labour at its proper price, they should do all the work themselves. That's what I do when I can't afford something. Or, they could hire some illegal immigrants and threaten to expose them if they don't work for real cheap. Please don't be shy to tell them you got this good free advice from me.

 

Sven Sven's picture

Unionist wrote:

As for your sandwich shop friends, if they can't afford to buy labour at its proper price, they should do all the work themselves.

Since that's not possible, their shop would close.

Unionist

Sven wrote:

Unionist wrote:

As for your sandwich shop friends, if they can't afford to buy labour at its proper price, they should do all the work themselves.

Since that's not possible, their shop would close.

Welcome to capitalism.

And no, we don't need laws forcing every employer to pay a union wage. We need (or rather, you in the U.S. desperately need) a legislative regime which favours unionization of all workers who wish to unionize. Then, if mom and pop have to shut down shop, too fucking bad. They can go out and get one of those luxurious union jobs.

 

Slumberjack

Sven wrote:
So, would you envision having a requirement where all foodservice employees, whether at a chain or a one-shop operation, would be required to be paid a unionized wage?

Maybe that's the right thing to do.  But, with the youth (ages 16 - 24 years) unemployment rate at 50% right now, that would just futher spike unemployment, no? 

But this too is a direct result of laizze-faire Capitalism, which inexorably leads to the worst possible environment for workers and unemployed job seekers alike.  The example you use highlights a problem with licensing mechanisms, de-regulation in other words, leading to oversupply.  In Italy for instance just about every service sector niche is unionized.  A prospective cab driver must obtain permission from both the municipality and the union to make sure demand will accommodate another cab on the streets, and to ensure the prospective business doesn't run the risk of taking food from the mouths of the existing cab workers.  The reason why there are more food stamp recipients in the US today than ever before is because far too many people, including those with full time work, simply don't make enough money to feed their families while maintaining a roof.  Consumerism in the US is being sacrificed for maximizing profit on the backs of the working poor, largely as a result of globalization that is cultivating previously untapped sources of consumerism among manufacturing sector workers elsewhere.

Sven Sven's picture

Unionist wrote:

...if mom and pop have to shut down shop, too fucking bad. 

Unforunately, we're already moving towards chain-only restaurants.  This would certainly speed up that process...as those would largely be the only restaurants left.

Unionist

I don't believe the interests of workers and small business owners are irrevocably irreconcilable.

But, if I'm wrong, I have absolutely no doubt whose side I'm on.

The good news is that, historically, the small owners who inevitably go belly up end up in the working class. So it's all love and kisses in the end.

 

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

Sven wrote:

Unionist wrote:

As for your sandwich shop friends, if they can't afford to buy labour at its proper price, they should do all the work themselves.

Since that's not possible, their shop would close.

If what those "mom and pop" businesses have for competition are businesses paying living wages then it is obvious they are extremely bad business people if they can't figure out how to charge prices that are competitive with the union shops and make a living wage themselves.

However even good business people have a tough time competing against exploited labour and the small owner ends up either exploiting or working for close to the same as the exploited workers.  Enforced employment standards laws are the key to making the money flow in a capitalist economy. Without regulations that deal with the minimums of wages and benefits that all employers must pay you get a cutthroat ugly society.

 

Validation error #3 today

Tongue out

6079_Smith_W

Sven wrote:

Unforunately, we're already moving towards chain-only restaurants.  This would certainly speed up that process...as those would largely be the only restaurants left.

I seriously doubt that. The only white food restaurants, maybe. But even then all you have to do is drive outside of city limits and poof.... no more chains.

Speaking of which, there was a great art/museum exhibit here some years back about the Chinese restaurant which could be found in every prairie town.

http://www.hillmanweb.com/tam/

and @ Unionist

No, I don't think you're wrong at all.

 

onlinediscountanvils

Boom Boom wrote:
Before food reaches a restaurant kitchen, it has to come from somewhere, and the working conditions of farm labour needs to be considered as well. I'm reading an article in a Toronto church paper (The Anglican) about the 20,000 Mexican farm workers that travel to Ontario every year - local churches try to make conditions better for them by providing help with transportation needs, translation services, and practical and personal matters.

In the 1960s one of my relatives worked alongside Mexican tobacco pickers on a huge farm in southern Ontario - he described conditions back then as "rough". I gather working conditions on farms for foreign labourers has improved, according to the article I am reading.

 

Two days ago... [url=http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2012/09/11/ont-migrant-worker... worker killed in eastern Ontario farm accident[/url]. Thirteenth time this year in Ontario alone.

6079_Smith_W

kropotkin1951 wrote:

However even good business people have a tough time competing against exploited labour and the small owner ends up either exploiting or working for close to the same as the exploited workers.

Fact is, people who want to go for the cheap are going to go for the cheap. An extension to that is these big chains going after each other by forcing 24-hour serviice, even in big box stores.

There is no competing with that. What really makes the difference is quality, good service, and supporting the community, and sticking to one's guns when it comes to that.

 

kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

6079_Smith_W wrote:

Speaking of which, there was a great art/museum exhibit here some years back about the Chinese restaurant which could be found in every prairie town.

How about the rest of the province? All those towns that are not on the prairies did they have Chinese restaurants? Is there a list of towns, in the three provinces directly east of the Continental Divide, that fall under the term prairie town?

Wink

6079_Smith_W

Ah.... you got me there.

 

Unionist

Could mods merge this thread with the [url=http://rabble.ca/babble/science-technology/prairie-dwellers-less-support... evolution on the prairies[/url] thread? Merci.

 

6079_Smith_W

... but some mighty fine breakfasts to be had, so long as you don't make the mistake of going to the lounge. Those guys can fuck up a fried egg.

Regarding working conditions, a friend of mine who is in the industry pointed out to me a few years ago that addiction and hard living is as much a part of the evening restaunt lifestyle as it is for touring musicians.

 

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I'd like to see that exhibit, Winston. My time as a brushcutter in Northern Alberta/BC grew me a special fondess for the idiosyncrasy that is the Rural Western Chinese-Canadian Restaurant.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

lagatta is also experiencing the dreaded validation error and has asked me to post the following on her behalf. It's in response to my post @13:

lagatta wrote:
Absolutely. It is similar to "carbusting" and a radical rethink of how to achieve mobility. People have to get places, but capitalism has determined the car-centric approach.

Even family-owned small restaurants that employ no non-relatives as staff rely on the owners "exploiting" themselves; that is, working hours far too long and doing far to gruelling and demanding labour for their own health and safety, and on the unpaid or underpaid labour of nuclear and extended family members. (Often this is an immigration strategy).

When I have time, I'll look at their publication about housing. Unfortunately, unlike the restaurant document, it doesn't exist in French, but it may be useable in tenant association stuff here, translating some pages (no way I'm translating the whole damned thing unless I'm paid to do so).