Monthly Archive for February, 2012

New Study Reveals Dire Conditions for Restaurant Workers

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 overwhelmingly 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.

Legislation America Needs

On Wednesday morning, at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) described for the first time sweeping new legislation that he plans to introduce this spring: the Rebuild America Act.  This welcome and badly needed bill aims to help restore economic growth and rebuild the middle class by addressing inequality and creating good jobs.

It is a powerful legislative package that working Americans need.  Senator Harkin has long been a champion for workers and for all who struggle to find good jobs, to meet the dual demands of work and family, to overcome discrimination, and to pay for food, housing, health care, child or elder care and other necessities.  That has long been evident in his work as a member – and now Chair – of the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator Harkin is a key sponsor of the Healthy Families Act, which would give most workers the right to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days a year to use if they get sick or face domestic violence, or if a family member needs care.  So it is no surprise that, as he described his upcoming legislative package, he pointed to paid sick days as a key measure that can strengthen families and our workforce.  “Today’s workers are caring for children and aging parents.  They need jobs that support them and allow families to care for each other,” Senator Harkin said.  He expressed concern for those in the “sandwich generation” who care for children and older relatives at the same time; too often, he noted, they fall out of the middle class and into hardship and poverty.

Senator Harkin said that his Rebuild America Act will include the Healthy Families Act, which now has support from more than 100 members of Congress and more than 200 advocacy groups nationwide. It will also include measures to raise the minimum wage, protect workers’ right to stand together, and fund investments in education, child care and infrastructure.

Panelists Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress, John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution echoed Senator Harkin’s themes.  “A strong middle class is not in opposition to a strong economy,” Boushey said. “We need to invest in families with things like child care and paid sick days…. Most other countries offer a rich basket of benefits [to their employees], including paid sick days and paid family leave. Parents are able to care for their children… it’s not only good for people, but also good for the economy.”

Senator Harkin closed his remarks by saying, “For three decades, our economy has been held back by failed trickle-down economics. It’s time for percolate-up economics. The middle class is the backbone of this country. It’s time for Washington to have the backbone to defend it.”

The National Partnership applauds Senator Harkin for including paid sick days as a crucial protection for working families.  We look forward to the day when he introduces the Rebuild America Act, and pledge to work hard to help advance it.  I hope you will join us.