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PORTSIDE  April 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE April 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Wages in Restaurants: The Real Bread-and-Butter Issue

From:

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Date:

Wed, 4 Apr 2012 22:21:28 -0400

Content-Type:

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text/plain (123 lines)

Wages in Restaurants: The Real Bread-and-Butter Issue

    Consumers are great at getting restaurants to
    source better food. Isn't it time we applied
    pressure to the way they treat staff?

By Moira Herbst
Guardian (UK)
April 3, 2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/apr/03/wages-in-restaurants

More and more, people want to know where their food and
drink comes from. We ask: were these grapes organically
grown, or doused with pesticides? Were the cows that
make up this burger free to roam the pastures or
crammed into overcrowded feedlots?

Less often do we ask about the conditions under which
our food is prepared and served to us at our favorite
restaurants.

A string of recent lawsuits suggest we should. Flyers
recently slapped on lampposts in my neighborhood, the
East Village in Manhattan, refer to one of them: three
bartenders accuse the owners of downtown wine/tapas
spots Bar Veloce and Bar Carrera of skimming up to 30%
of their tips, along with failing to pay proper wages
and overtime. The flyers exhort locals to think twice
before frequenting these bars, along with nearby
Porsena and Ugly Kitchen - also owned by defendant
Frederick Twomey, who denies the allegations.

It's not just Twomey. Earlier this month, celebrity
chef Mario Batali and his business partner agreed to
pay $5.25m to settle claims that their restaurants
including downtown Manhattan's Babbo and Casa Mono
illegally nabbed a portion of servers' and other
staffers' tips. Del Posto, another Batali restaurant,
faces a separate lawsuit in New York alleging employees
were underpaid.

Other New York City eateries sued for similar
allegations include Keith McNally's Pastis and
Balthazar, which settled for $1.48m; BLT restaurants,
which settled for $925,000; and Nobu, which settled for
$2.5m.

A pending class action lawsuit against Capital Grille,
a nationwide chain of upscale steakhouses, alleges it
misappropriated tips and failed to pay minimum wage and
overtime to servers, bartenders, bussers and others who
worked at one of 40-plus locations across the US.

The spate of lawsuits reflect a profound disconnect
between the polished image of our most celebrated
restaurants and the stark reality of wage theft in the
industry - one of the largest and fastest-growing
sectors of the US economy. The cases mentioned above
involve mainly front-of-the house staff workers;
conditions behind the kitchen door can be worse.
Workers in these jobs - often immigrants or people of
color - can earn poverty wages and face health and
safety hazards, even as they lack health insurance.

It's sad and strange that consumer concerns can nudge a
high-end restaurant into sourcing heritage pork over
feedlot meat, but that it takes going to court to
ensure servers and kitchen staff are properly paid. But
just as they advocate for grass-fed beef and organic
eggs, consumers also have the power to exert pressure
on restaurant owners to raise their game on employment
practices.

For a start, we can all do a little research to look
beyond the pleasing lighting and hip d├ęcor of our
favorite spots. A non-profit worker advocacy group
called the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC)-United
recently released a guide book that rates popular
restaurants according to how they treat their staff.
Available free online, it shows which places offer
decent wages and paid sick days.

As the guide shows, plenty of restaurants are able to
treat employees well while serving top-notch food. For
one, there's Colors in New York City, owned and
operated by former workers of Windows on the World
restaurant in the World Trade Center destroyed on 9/11.
Or Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, which offers
paid time-off and subsidized health benefits to workers
in its four locations - as does high-end Craft
restaurant in New York.

The more successful these places are, the more they can
grow and form a real alternative to low-road employers.
They can also serve as examples of leaders of the
industry.

So, we can let the lawyers play their part in the
courtroom, but it's also up to us to ask still more
questions of our restaurants. If we're to be truly
conscious consumers, we need to demand that our food is
sourced fairly from its origins right up to the moment
it reaches our privileged tables.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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