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New Study Reveals Dire Conditions for Restaurant Workers

February 17, 2012 | Campaigns > Paid Sick Days

A powerful new report released this week paints a dire picture for workers in the restaurant industry. According to the report, tipped workers, who are primarily women, are paid a mere $2.13 per hour, have little to no control over their schedules, suffer sexual harassment regularly, and have few opportunities for advancement. The overwhelming majority are not able to earn any paid sick days.

The report, Tipped Over the Edge: Gender Inequity in the Restaurant Industry, was produced by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC) and 12 other women’s and worker organizations. It reveals harmful trends for workers in this fast-growing industry and recommends common sense solutions — including paid sick days.

As National Partnership President Debra L. Ness explains in a piece on the Huffington Post:

[D]espite the important role restaurant workers play in our lives and our economy, the restaurant industry provides some of the lowest-wage jobs in the nation — leaving many workers and their families living in poverty.

If having to live paycheck to paycheck isn’t hard enough, 90 percent of the restaurant workers surveyed also don’t have a single paid sick day to recover from common illnesses like the flu — meaning that when illness strikes, they have to choose between already limited and much-needed income and their health. As a result, more than two-thirds report they have gone to work sick. And as the report documents, many workers say that they or a coworker have been fired simply for getting sick. This not only threatens the fragile economic security of these workers and their families, but also the public’s health.

We — ROC and the other organizations that produced this report — propose very reasonable steps to create a more just restaurant industry for workers and their families. The recommendations include increasing the sub-minimum wage to help close the gender gap and make wages more fair, establishing a national policy standard to allow restaurant workers to earn paid sick days, enacting legislation that would promote greater control over scheduling so workers can manage work and family responsibilities, and providing ongoing training to help prevent sexual harassment.

Given the seriousness of the inequality and hardships among workers in the industry, restaurant owners and legislators should waste no time in advancing all of these recommendations. Existing legislation like the Healthy Families Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act and efforts to raise minimum and sub-minimum wages should be top priorities.


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