Posts Tagged ‘Restaurant Workers’

Which matters most? Race or class?

March 31, 2021

On almost any level of American society, you’re better off being white than being black.

Even if you’re President of the United States.

Barack Obama could never have gotten away with the sordid personal behavior of Bill Clinton or the manifest ignorance of George W. Bush. (I leave out Donald Trump because he’s in a category all his own.)

Source: Demos.

Clinton, Bush and Obama all were targets of vituperative attacks, but the attacks on Obama were on a different level than the other two.

On a lower level of society, there is a great deal of racial discrimination in the restaurant industry.  Black employees are most commonly found in the kitchen; white employees are the ones who serve the public.

So does that mean Barack Obama and black dishwashers are in one category, and Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and white waiters and waitresses are in another?

Barack Obama is a rich celebrity.  He lives in an $11.75 million house in Martha’s Vineyard.  He has nothing in common with a dishwasher.

The Obamas are good friends with the Bushes, who are good friends of the Clintons, who used to be good friends of the Trumps. 

They all have more in common with each other and with other rich celebrities than any of them does with an hourly worker of any race.


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So which matters most?  The vertical lines that separate Americans of different races or the horizontal lines that separate Americans of different economic classes?

If you look at different jobs, you see that a disproportionate amount of the dirty, low-wage work of American society is done by the descendants of enslaved black people and conquered Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.  It is not a coincidence that the descendants of enslaved and conquered people are at the bottom of the economic ladder.

The lines are diagonal lines.  Race and social class can’t be separated.  You find people of every race on every level of American society—but not equally.


Racism and prejudice are almost always factors in racial inequality.  Nowadays, they are seldom the only factors.

• The Republican Party in many states has been illegally purging black citizens from voter registration rolls and making it more difficult for them to vote.  But I don’t think that is because they think blacks are an inferior race.  It is because the vast majority of them vote Democratic.

Click to enlarge.

These same Republicans are perfectly happy with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina or Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

• Police killings of black people are proportionately greater than police killings of white people.  One reason is that some police are racist and many are racially prejudiced.  But it’s also a fact that police in general treat poor people worse than they do rich people and middle-class people.

And there are also big differences in police departments across the country based on training and policies.  And the inconvenient fact is that a disproportionate number of violent crimes are committed by black people.

Click to enlarge.

But I don’t think these other factors explain away racial prejudice.  Like a lot of things, the issue is complex.

Black people were targeted for the sale of subprime mortgages in the run-up to the 2008 recession.  But I don’t think this was because the financial speculators had an implicit against them because of their race.

Rather it was because they were more financially vulnerable than equivalent white people, for historical reasons that are rooted in racism.

If you look at reasons for inequality in the USA, there is very often a racial angle, but there also is almost always a money angle.


Some things to read on Labor Day weekend

September 2, 2016

Inside the Corporate Utopias Where Capitalism Rules and Labor Laws Don’t Apply by Matt Kennard and Claire Provost for In These Times.

Trade Unions and the Fate of the American Left, an interview of political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. on The Real News Network.

How Unions Change Universities by Marley-Vincent Lindsey for Jacobin magazine.

Making Green Jobs Good Jobs by Kate Aranoff for In These Times.

The Housing Monster: a worker’s critique of the construction industry.

Abolish Restaurants: a worker’s critique of the food service industry.

Nearly 10,000 Current and Former Chipotle Workers Join in Wage Theft Class Action Suit, an interview of labor lawyer Kent Williams on The Real News Network.

No Other Way Than Struggle: The Farmworker-Led Boycott of Driscoll’s Berries, an interview of labor leader Felimoñ Peneda by David Bacon for Truthout.

Meet Jacqui Maxwell, the United Auto Worker Who Interrupted Trump’s Economic Speech in Detroit, an interview on Democracy Now

Behind the Kitchen Door

October 12, 2013

Many Americans who dine out in restaurants ask questions about the food they eat—whether it is wholesome, whether it is locally-grown, whether it is organic, even whether the meat animals have been raised in humane conditions.

beyond-kitchen-doorSaru Jayaraman, in her book, Behind the Kitchen Door, which I just got finished reading, argued that we diners should be equally concerned about the people though whose hands our food passes.  It is short and highly readable, and told mainly through personal stories.

The most shocking chapter was the one entitled “Serving While Sick.”  Most restaurant workers do not receive paid sick leave, and cannot afford to skip work because they depend on tips for most of their income.  Employers expect them to come to work even if they have ‘flu or other infectious diseases.  Jayaraman told the story of Nikki, who was forced to continue serving food in a Washington, D.C., restaurant after coming down with conjuntivitis, and Woong, a Korean-American who served food in an upscale French bistro even after contracting swine ‘flu (H1N1).

A 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control indicated that one in eight restaurant workers continued to work on two or more shifts during the previous year while suffering from ‘flu symptoms, vomiting or diarrhea.  In summer 2011, thousands of people had to be vaccinated after being exposed to hepatitis by an Olive Garden worker who couldn’t take a day off without losing his job.

Jayaraman said that restaurants who require employees to work while sick are the same ones that cheat employees on wages and tips, demand they work in unsafe conditions and discriminate against dark-skinned and women employees.

The federal minimum wage is $2.13 an hour for restaurant workers, which has been unchanged for 20 years.  Workers are expected to make up the rest in tips.  In the United States, a tip is not a gratuity—something extra on top of the wage.  It is what workers are expected to live on.  A tip does not go just to the server.  It is supposed to be divided up among all the workers, including the kitchen workers.

Some states do have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum, and California and six other states set the same minimum wage for all workers.  But the median wage in 2010 for restaurant workers nationwide was $9.02 an hour, including tips.  Restaurant workers’ annual income is about a third of that for all U.S. workers.

In many restaurants, according to Jayaraman, the managers don’t pay them for all the hours worked, and they take a share of the tips, even though both practices are illegal.  Racial discrimination and sexual harassment are rampant in restaurants, she wrote.  Typically the wait staff are white, the bussers are brown-skinned Latinos and the kitchen staff are black.

We Americans sometimes speak of racism in the past tense, but many restaurants treat employees as they did in the Jim Crow era, and with the same rationale—that white customers wouldn’t like to be waited on by black servers.

Reading this book made me realize what a sheltered life I have led.  During my career, I had bosses I didn’t like, but I never had a one who threw things at me, cursed me out in public or refused to pay my wages, let alone one who demanded sexual favors or denied me the possibility of promotion because of my race.

Not all restaurants abuse their employees.  I eat out a lot, and I would hate to think my favorite neighborhood diner treats its employees like the ones described in the book.  Jayaraman gives examples of restaurant owners who treat their employees fairly, and still make a profit.  Her organization, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which she co-founded with Fekkak Mamdouh, helped found worker-owned restaurants in New York City and Detroit which eventually made a profit.

Nor is a sub-minimum wage necessary for a thriving restaurant industry.  Restaurants are prospering in California and especially in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which have strong minimum wage laws.

Jayaraman said restaurant diners can help by being as concerned about the conditions under which their food is prepared as they are about the conditions under which it is produced.  And they can help by supporting legislation to give restaurant workers the same protections as other workers.


McDonalds tells employees to budget better

July 17, 2013


McDonalds has teamed up with Visa to advise restaurant employees on how to lead a good life on a McDonalds wage.

mcdonalds.employeesSome of the things the employees would have to do are (1) hold two jobs, (2) pay nothing for heat or air conditioning and (3) get health insurance for $20 a month.

What were McDonalds’ executives thinking?  Did they actually think their advice was realistic?  Or was this an ill-conceived public relations ploy and, if so, who was it aimed at?

Click on Practical Money Skills Budget for the McDonalds-Visa financial planning web page.

Click on McDonalds Tells Workers to Toil 70 Hours a Week, Use Ripoff Payroll Cards as Part of “Financial Literacy” for Yves Smith’s detailed breakdown and analysis on naked capitalism.

Click on A Model World for Jim Henley’s briefer breakdown and analysis on Unqualified Offerings.


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed and well-fed.
    ==Herman Melville (1819-1892)


[Update 7/19/13]  Click on Minimum wage workers teach economics to the economists for what it means to live on minimum wages.

Why are waiters and waitresses treated so badly?

April 4, 2013


I lead a good life, and that life is made possible by the hard work of many people—many of whom earn less than I do.  As I get older, I eat more meals in restaurants, and it makes a difference to me whether the waiters and waitresses know their business (they usually do) or not.  They’re on their feet almost all the time, they have to keep track of orders and notice when customers need their attention, and they maintain a cheerful, friendly appearance, even at the end of a long day when they may not feel like it.

Nearly one in 10 American workers, a total of 13.1 million people, are employed in the restaurant industry, and they’re among the worst-treated of American workers.  According to an article by Matt Frassica for Salon:

  • Restaurant employees receive the lowest wages of all employment categories tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  In 12 states, the minimum wage for workers who receive tips, such as waiters, waitresses and bartenders, is $2.13 an hour, the lowest allowed by minimum law.  Many other states (but not all) set a sub-standard minimum wage for tipped workers.
  • One survey indicates that nearly 90  percent of restaurant workers are without paid sick days, vacation days or health insurance.
  • Employers commonly violate federal and state labor laws, by engaging in wage theft (not paying for all hours worked) or requiring tip pooling.
  • Only about 1 percent of restaurant workers belong to labor unions.  Most of those work for hotels and casinos in Nevada, which are able to earn a decent profit while paying decent wages.

Many people have the mistaken idea that waiters and waitresses earn federal minimum wage, and that a tip is something extra that a customer gives out of benevolence or as gratitude for extra-good service.  The fact is that tips are regarded as part of their base compensation, which is why laws so often allow sub-minimum wage pay.

I suppose the ultimate answer is a stronger labor union movement and better federal and state labor laws, but I’m not going to hold my breath until these come about.  The least I can do is to leave an adequate tip (20 percent) and treat waiters and waitresses with normal human courtesy.

Click on Restaurant horror show: How waitstaffs are mistreated for Matt Frassica’s full Salon article.

Click on BIG SHOT and read the post and comment thread for blow-by-blow descriptions of encounters between restaurant servers and obnoxious customers.  Servers sometimes have ways of striking back.