“Behind the Kitchen Door” Author Encourages Diners to Speak Out

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In this week’s show, activist and author Saru Jayaraman marches on Washington with restaurant workers struggling to make ends meet, and talks about how we can support their fight for better working conditions and a fair wage. She hopes viewers will speak out to help food service industry workers get the paychecks, health care and sick days they deserve, but often don’t receive.

“If consumers asked, every time they ate out, or said to the management, ‘Love the food, love the service, I would love to see you provide paid sick days, as a consumer that’s important to me,’ or ‘I would love to see you do better on your wages, not pay $2.13,’ just before leaving, we feel like that could make a tremendous difference in moving the industry,” says Jayaraman.

Jayaraman is co-founder and director of The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an organization that works to improve wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. For consumers, ROC publishes a guide to ethical eating, which lets you know which restaurants in your area treat their workers fairly. For restaurant workers, ROC provides job training, legal and organizing support. There’s also a free mobile version available for iPhone or Android. You can also visit thewelcometable.net to learn more. Restaurant owners and workers, also check out the Restaurant Worker Health Care Cooperative, which provides uninsured restaurant workers with timely, direct access to basic medical care at a low, reasonable cost.

Watch the full interview with Jayaraman on this weekend’s Moyers & Company.

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  • neo

    not to be sound racist- but indians are worst tippers in the usa! why not she try to educate her fellow indians

  • kari

    How is saying that you would love to see something change but then continuing with the same behaviors going to make any difference? I think we’ve seen for generations that people don’t change out of the kindness of their heart, especially when the bottomline is at stake. People change because pressure is applied to force the change. So, supporting workers who are organizing for changes in their workplace is much more likely to make change than a kind word upon paying your bill.

  • PG

    Better wages from whom? Corporate run restaurants such as Applebee’s or Outback Steakhouse? Or the independently run, mom and pop business being bullied by local government draining them of resources with no support from banks and other financial institutions? Being targeted unfairly and overwhelmingly by government agencies such as the State liquor authorities, dept. of health, dept of consumer affairs and so on! The profit margin for most mom and pop restaurants is about 5-8 cents per dollar which leaves owners and operators uninsured, no vacation time or overtime. Operators typically work 10-16 hr days, 7 days a week and can go without wages for months so that employees are compensated. It is not uncommon for employees to leave with better wages than their employers Then there is the added stress of unregulated social media outlets where anyone can write damaging reviews without basis. Unregulated prices for various goods which fluctuate on a whim from week to week further reduces profit margins. Such pressure would destroy the independent industry and leave it to the hands of corporate moguls which have proven how suppressive they can be.

  • Alfred E. Newman

    So you want more regulation then.

  • Anastas

    Well, that was very nice that she spoke up for the Latinas, but if any of them were illegals, (high likelihood ) or had no mastery of English (even higher likelihood) perhaps they *prefer* the less prominent position of being bussers , and the customers prefer a server who understands the language when they order the meal…
    just sayin’.

  • Anonymous

    If you want to change the wage, contact your congressperson. Most of the bussers are Latino because those who bus have a limited scope of the English language, those who can speak fluently, serve, it’s not a matter of discrimination, but of linguistics…the kitchen in the restaurnant where I work has a bilingual ‘liason’ of sorts, if you need anything you have to talk to him, so he can communicate with the Spanish speakers…and bussers make a higher wage, plus tips, so on a good night they can make a decent buck too.

  • Anonymous

    %50 of restaurants fail within 3 years…it’s a tough biz. I’ve been front of house but would not for the life of me take on ownership.

  • PG

    it is a very tough business and one which should be pursued with passion not economic stability, maybe 20-30 years ago but not today

  • PG

    Fair treatment by said agencies…

  • Tim O’Connor

    Greetings, I’ve been a proud union member for 40 years , now retired. We’ve found thru the years that money speaks the loudest. A list of the restraunts that pay their workers a decent wage, and a list of those that don’t , would make patronising the good ones a lot easier. Thanks, Tim

  • Dave in Denver

    Thanks for doing this, both of you. I’m in Denver, so there is a national guide, but not local to me. My wife and I only eat at locally owned places, so we know who owns them, and we always way over tip, because we know the workers rely on them. I’ll need to figure how to approach owners and workers to make sure your guidelines followed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dcurielserret David Curiel Serret

    In San Francisco all restaurant tipped workers make full minimum wage ($10.55), plus tips. There are also included in the San Francisco health system that makes employers to set aside $2 dlls per worked hour in a health fund that uninsured employees can use at any time for health purposes. Even though some restaurants resisted the new law, their business is doing just fine. They did rise prices but most restaurants are doing very well. Several new restaurants have opened in the city as well. So, there is prof that doing the right is good for everyone.

  • Henry B

    Restaurant Workers get Sick with Two Different kinds of Illness:
    1) Foodborne Illnesses, and
    2) Other Illnesses.

    There is a fundamental difference between time off for required exclusion from work due to relatively infrequent FOODBORNE ILLNESS (e.g. symptoms or conditions such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, exposure to Norovirus illness events, diagnosis of hepatitis or
    other foodborne illnesses, etc.), versus time off for all other and more common OTHER ILLNESSES (e.g. malaise, common colds, migraine, hangover, menses, trauma,/ surgery / physical therapy, chronic illnesses & conditions, etc.).

    General Illnesses certainly affect food worker performance and are a very important economic consideration for restaurant owners, as they are for any business enterprise. Foodborne Illness affects restaurant business operations in the same way, but because the business is foodservice, foodborne illness also directly impacts food safety and public health, and this is by far, the greater risk for every food establishment. Restaurant operators have a much greater vested interest in avoiding foodborne illness risk due to ill food workers (it’s a Food Code legal requirement) than their vested interest in making sure food workers are well enough to perform their jobs (related to enterprise success).
    Yet these two different kinds of food worker illnesses continue to be confounded by advocates on both sides of a controversy. Dealing with the risk of business performance loss due to general illness is costly, and has been a difficult, long-term issue, which may be solved as health care services are provided for all at minimal cost. On the other hand, addressing performance losses due to ill food workers and the more fundamental requirement to control risk to public health can be addressed in many ways, at minimal cost, and right now.

    For example, food workers can be rewarded with free meals, or better, given paid time off (only about 2 days per year per worker) for reporting their foodborne illness symptoms to their managers. These workers are in fact, helping their managers to actively control the risk of foodborne illness from ill food workers, and at the same time they could be excluded from work and lose a day’s wages. Compensating them, at least
    in some way, for their efforts to help assure food safety only makes sense. Full health benefit plans that cover all illnesses, are not necessary to accomplish this required control over foodborne illness risk.

    Henry B.

  • sandy

    Why not go to a no tip, livable wage system?

  • Susan Henne

    If there were to be a an organized list in every town which identified the restaurants who treated employees fairly, I believe it would be very good advertising for the establishment. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard my own son remark about which illnesses his fellow workers have while still working. If a restaurant could communicate to its customers that they provide sick days for their employees I would be the first in line to support them.

  • Talent

    You’re missing the point. The people who are capable make a livable wage, the people who don’t move onto something else. That’s how it works. If America did away with the current system I’d move away. Why? Because then I’d be required to spend my work day propping up weaker waiters and make far less money.