Monthly Archive for February, 2011

A Frightening Look at D.C.’s Restaurant Industry

Just in time for Valentine’s Day—the highest grossing day of the year for restaurants—the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington, D.C., (ROC-DC) has released a comprehensive analysis of workplace policies in the city’s restaurant industry. ROC organizations in Los Angeles and Miami also released reports specific to their cities today.

Behind the Kitchen Door: Inequality & Opportunity in Washington, DC’s Thriving Restaurant Industry is the result of a year-long study that included surveys from more than 500 D.C. restaurant workers, in-depth interviews, focus groups and 30 employer interviews. The final report is a frightening look at the policies of an industry central to the city’s economy—and the threat they pose to working families and the community.

Those of us living in D.C. know it’s hard to walk a block in the city’s commercial districts and not see an eating or drinking establishment. That’s because there are more than 2,000 bars and restaurants in the city, and they employ more than 36,000 workers. According to the new report, these businesses have been thriving in recent years, despite the economic recession that has left many restaurants struggling to stay afloat. The growth of D.C.’s restaurant industry has actually outpaced the city’s economy.

Unfortunately, this study shows that the prosperity and success of the restaurant industry hasn’t translated into gains for restaurant workers. To be sure, there are restaurant owners who take good care of their workers with good wages, workplace policies and working conditions. Yet, more often, restaurant owners make a profit on the backs of their workers. Fewer than 14 percent of workers report receiving living wages and benefits. About one-third report having experienced overtime violations, and more than one-third report working “off the clock” without pay. Workers also report a sobering prevalence of discrimination, specifically when it comes to hiring, promotion and disciplinary practices.

To make matters worse, the poor practices of the overwhelming majority of employers have a ripple effect on our community’s public health. Nearly 80 percent of the restaurant workers surveyed say they have no paid sick days. And 59 percent say they have worked sick. D.C. enacted an historic paid sick days law in 2008—the second of its kind in the nation—but tipped restaurant workers were cut out. As ROC-DC recommends in its report, lawmakers and employers must expand access to paid sick days to employees of all kinds—including tipped workers and others not currently covered by the city’s paid sick days law.

Whether we’re uncorking a bottle of wine in a fine restaurant or enjoying a quick meal at a local diner this Valentine’s Day, let’s remember the role that policymakers, businesses, and consumers can have in influencing change in the restaurant industry. Research the practices of restaurants in your area, ask about paid sick days policies, show some love for the workers who make your restaurant experience possible, and join local fights for better workplace standards so that your server—and the community—will be healthier and more prosperous.

San Francisco Paid Sick Days Law Is A Proven Success

A new study released today shows that San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance (PSLO)—the first citywide paid sick days standard in the country—has been proven a success. The report, San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance: Outcomes for Employers and Employees, released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), includes the results of a survey of nearly 1,200 workers and more than 700 employers in San Francisco. The findings are overwhelmingly positive for workers, businesses and the public—adding further evidence that policies that help working families meet their responsibilities at work and at home are good for everyone.

Sixty-one percent of San Francisco voters approved the city’s paid sick days law in 2006 despite the business lobby’s fierce campaign against it. Under the law, workers in smaller businesses can earn up to five paid sick days per year while workers in larger businesses can earn up to nine. Workers can use the sick time to recover from their own illness, care for a sick family member, or seek routine medical care.

This new study shows what researchers, advocates and the San Francisco public knew to be true: San Francisco’s PSLO has had a tremendous impact on workers’ lives with little to no impact on the city’s businesses. Two-thirds of the employers surveyed now support the PSLO. They overwhelmingly report that their profits haven’t declined as a result of the law and two-thirds report no difficulties with implementation.

The study results suggest that part of the reason the impact on business has been minimal is that workers only take sick days when they need them. Even though the law allows workers to take between five and nine paid sick days annually, San Francisco workers used a median of just three days per year to recover from an illness or care for a sick family member. And one-quarter of workers reported that they didn’t take a single sick day. Commonly used arguments about employee abuse, just like concerns about hindering businesses, simply aren’t reflected in the real-life data coming out of San Francisco. It’s no wonder that the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, one of the chief opponents of the law prior to its passage, now concedes that there has not been an adverse impact on business closures or employee misuse.

This new data proves that access to paid sick days really does make a difference for working families. More than half of the workers surveyed said they have benefitted from the law. And the law has given workers who need paid sick days the most—including parents and workers with chronic health conditions—the time they need to care for their health and the health of their children. Every day we hear the stories of parents who are forced to choose between their children’s health and the financial well-being of their family; lower-wage workers who have to put off visits to the doctor and sacrifice their health to avoid losing their jobs; and workers with conditions like asthma and diabetes that require ongoing care but who are forced to put their long-term health in danger because they have no sick time. This study shows the power of a simple common-sense policy in improving the lives of these workers and their families.

One sobering note from the study is that not all workers have been able to enjoy the PSLO’s protections. Between one-fifth and one-third of the city’s employers are not complying with the law, either by failing to provide time off or by asking for more documentation than the law requires. The survey results are a call for greater employer education, outreach and enforcement to maximize compliance and workers’ access to the protections the law provides.

As a whole, this new report adds to the growing evidence that paid sick days policies benefit working families, employers and our communities. Currently, 40 percent of private-sector workers in the United States don’t have access to paid sick days. And millions more cannot use the time they have to care for a sick child or family member. Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, WI, have already followed San Francisco’s lead by passing paid sick days laws, and states like Connecticut are seriously considering legislation that would guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days. There are no more excuses for lawmakers and employers not to do the right thing for working families. The scare tactics used by opponents have been shown to be baseless. It’s time for lawmakers to reject them and enact the common-sense policies that are proven to work for everyone.