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Behind the Kitchen Door by Sari Jayaraman

This article was inspired by Sari Jayaraman's Behind the Kitchen Door . If you enjoy this article then consider purchasing or borrowing the book.

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How Restaurants Abuse Employees

“Food can’t really be healthy, ethically consumed or sustainable if it’s prepared and served in an environment that permits abuse, exploitation and discrimination.”

“Two-thirds of all restaurant workers reported preparing, cooking and serving our meals while sick.”

Ironically, Americans have become worried about the human treatment of food-source animals while ignoring the treatment of restaurants’ employees. Out of the eleven lowest-paying US jobs, seven are a part of the restaurant industry.

Jumping onto the “Slow Food” bandwagon, celebrity chef Mario Batali claimed to provide organic, locally grown food at his four-star Italian restaurant, Del Posto, but his labor practices weren’t as pleasing as his menu.

Employees began to join the ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Center) and picket the restaurant. Managers had been stealing tips and wages from workers, and racial discrimination prevented staff from advancing. In the end, customers had been mistreated also, as only 10% of the food Del Posto sold was actually organic, with less than 50% of the ingredients used coming from local farmers.

Though ROC got a $1 million settlement from Batali’s restaurant, Del Posto isn’t the only restaurant that has abused employees’ rights. Most restaurants force their employees to prepare and package food while sick. As a matter of fact, approximately 42.5% of workers claim that they have been forced by time pressures to serve food that might harm customers.

The restaurant industry ranks number three in the list of industries with the most workplace sickness and injuries. Approximately 200,000 accidents occur in restaurants annually, as understaffed operations require employees to carry out multiple tasks, many of which they aren’t qualified for. Not only do the workers suffer from poor working conditions, consumers suffer also. CDC statistics demonstrate that annually one in six Americans gets food poisoning. Poor handling of restaurants’ food often causes food poisoning.

With some food industry workers surviving on tips alone, restaurant employees make three times less than those employed in the private sector. In many states, the minimum wage for restaurant workers is $2.13. While a job at a restaurant is not lucrative to begin with, corruption amongst managers exacerbates the problem. Approximately 13% of American restaurant employees report that their tips are chronically stolen by managers.

Racial discrimination still plagues the food industry, as white workers receive higher paying jobs and better chances to advance than African-Americans, Latinos and immigrants. About 25% white restaurant workers were employed in the lower paying fast food industry, while approximately 60% of black restaurant workers had jobs in fast food. A lack of transparency in restaurants allows employers to promote white workers with people of color left unaware of open positions.

Men often receive better jobs in the food industry than women who face wage discrimination and often suffer from sexual harassment. After being surveyed, approximately 10% of restaurant employees said that they or a co-worker had been sexually harassed at work.

By taking better care of our nation’s restaurant workers, fewer accidents will mean better health for customers also.


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