In $8 Billion Restaurant Industry, a Study Finds Mostly 'Bad Jobs'By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
January 25, 2005. New York Times.
A new study of New York City's restaurant industry has found that at least 36 percent of its workers are illegal immigrants, that 59 percent of restaurant workers surveyed reported overtime violations, and that 73 percent said they had no health insurance.
The study is scheduled for release today by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, an advocacy group for restaurant workers. Assistance with the study was provided by numerous community groups, economists and sociologists.
According to the study, most of the city's more than 165,000 restaurant workers earned less than $20,000 a year and 13 percent reported minimum wage violations. The study also found that 33 percent of the city's restaurant workers reported verbal abuse by their employers and that 19 percent said management illegally took a share of the tips.
"While there are a few 'good' restaurant jobs in the restaurant industry, the majority are 'bad jobs,' characterized by low wages, few benefits and limited opportunities for upward mobility of increased income," the report concluded.
The study, based on surveys of 530 restaurant workers and in-depth interviews with 35 restaurant executives and 45 workers, found that many restaurant executives said rent and other costs in New York were so high that they feared they would go out of business if they provided better wages and benefits. The study said the city had more than 15,000 food and drinking establishments with total revenue of more than $8 billion a year.
The study said fast food workers earned $6.99 an hour on average, restaurant dishwashers earned $7.64 an hour; waiters, $9.33 an hour; and cooks, $13.45 an hour.
E. Charles Hunt, executive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association, questioned the survey's representation of the industry.
He said restaurants played an important role in helping the city's immigrants, noting that "the restaurant industry is one of the few industries that offer opportunities for new citizens and for people who have just come to this country."
According to the study, employers who were interviewed recognized that the wages they paid were barely enough to live on, but they said it would be extremely difficult to pay a living wage and still make a profit. The study quoted one restaurant executive who said providing health benefits would be extremely hard and could be the difference between staying in business and going under.
The study called for stronger enforcement of wage and occupational safety laws and for government incentives, like tax breaks, to persuade restaurants to provide better wages and benefits.
Saru Jayaraman, executive director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center, which seeks to improve conditions for restaurant workers, said a major problem was that white workers were often given the highest-paying, front-of-the-house jobs like hostess or waiter, while Hispanic and Asian workers were often given the lowest paying, back-of-the-house jobs like dishwasher or prep cook.
Mr. Hunt, the industry official, condemned any minimum wage and overtime violations and denied that discrimination by race or by nationality was widespread in New York restaurants.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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