Streams

Behind the Kitchen Door

Friday, April 26, 2013

Saru Jayaraman, cofounder and codirector of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, discusses the low wages, poor working conditions, discriminatory labor practices that many restaurant workers across the country endure. Her book Behind the Kitchen Door looks at the working conditions at restaurants and at the people who work there, many of them immigrants and minorities, who live on some of the lowest wages in the country.

Guests:

Saru Jayaraman
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Comments [20]

dana from brooklyn

I've worked in the restaurant business for 20 years. Most waiters and bartenders I know in NYC make $25-$50/hr in tips alone (and in addition make $5-$10/hr in wages, most of which goes towards paying taxes.) In addition, the schedule is flexible and the hours for service staff are usually less than 40 hrs/wk. I'm sure there are chain restaurants and restaurants in other parts of the country in which the servers make minimum wage, but here in NYC, waiters and bartenders make well above minimum wage, without the need for any special schooling. Most waiters I know wouldn't like to go on a salary because it would mean much less money, and less control over the amount of money you make. Talented servers would be more likely to look elsewhere for jobs if they were making what the restaurant could afford to pay them. And restaurants would have to raise prices for food if they were paying the salaries of all the servers, so the customer would end up paying either way. Cooks and dishwashers have a much harder time, with longer hours and less pay.

Apr. 26 2013 02:29 PM
oscar from ny

Maybe the server sometimes don't get payd enough money but here in ny They're one of the prettiest ppl I have seen..

Apr. 26 2013 01:28 PM
Lena from Brooklyn

As a customer, your tip isn't just the server's wage. Most restaurants consider busboys and other staff to be tipped workers, and require servers to pool their tips and "tip" the busboys a certain percentage. I guarantee this is standard practice at most restaurants run by some of this show's guests.

Apr. 26 2013 01:09 PM
Craig from France

I can't stand Herman Cain. I agree that the minimum wage is too low. I don't like the influence of money in Washington. All that being said I've lived in France for over 4 years and service in restaurants in Europe is horrible. They chronically under staff so the service suffers. The wait staff can be rude and it doesn't matter. They get paid in full regardless. The people cooking the food care more about what they do here but wait service is a joke compared to the US. There is a balance to be had but the European model for service in restaurants is a terrible model.

Apr. 26 2013 01:07 PM
Craig from France

I can't stand Herman Cain. I agree that the minimum wage is too low. I don't like the influence of money in Washington. All that being said I've lived in France for over 4 years and service in restaurants in Europe is horrible. They chronically under staff so the service suffers. The wait staff can be rude and it doesn't matter. They get paid in full regardless. The people cooking the food care more about what they do here but wait service is a joke compared to the US. There is a balance to be had but the European model for service in restaurants is a terrible model.

Apr. 26 2013 01:07 PM

MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill ~

Another EXCELLENT point!

These culinary "Institutes" that charge Ivy League tuition for a career at the poverty line!!

Immoral.

Apr. 26 2013 01:05 PM

Darrell Issa?!?!?!

He's a CONVICTED CRIMINAL!!!

"Issa was charged with carrying a concealed weapon; he pled guilty to a charge of possession of an unregistered firearm, and was sentenced to six months' probation and a small fine.[9][16] Issa has said he believes the record has since been expunged."

Apr. 26 2013 01:01 PM
Lissnah from NJ

The 'tipping' system is simply institutionalized slave labor. It should be abolished. It just gives restaurant owners an excuse to pay less than a living wage.

Apr. 26 2013 01:00 PM
Dana

Yes, as Dboy and Ben point out, you really should be asking your guests about these practices when you offer them the additional publicity of hosting them on your program. I think that would be the right thing to do.

Apr. 26 2013 01:00 PM
suzinne from Bronx

Worked as a waitress in NYC as a teen back in the late 70s. Let's just say it plainly: the restaurant business is and has always been CORRUPT. Sure, it's great having a wad of cash to stuff in your pocket after your shift. But the fact is the restaurant's management has their hand already in your pocket BEFORE the cash even gets there! At the chain restaurant I worked for everybody's shift was shorted by half an hour or more, meaning that one half hour you worked to prep for your shift was totally unpaid labor. After said restaurant went out of business, the Labor Board came in and investigated. That resulted in a check for $250.00 even though I'd amassed a good amount of hours unpaid over a year and a half period. But my hourly wage was $1.90 an hour!

Apr. 26 2013 12:58 PM

...SETTLED at $5.25 MILLION!!

Apr. 26 2013 12:58 PM
MikeInBrklyn from Clinton Hill

I made the great mistake of spending $36000+ dollars to attend the French Culinary Institute in NYC, only to come out and find myself slaving away in kitchens like Perry St and The modern for $10/hr.

Likewise, I had the experience of working at Google's NYC campus, but for its subcontractor, Restaurant Associate, at a similar wage as above.

So while the Googlers ate the quality foods I prepare for free, making high salaries and bestowed with all manner of perks, and Google raked in profits in the billions, the people in it kitchens were paid peanuts.

Needless to say I didn't last long and am back to computer programming.

Apr. 26 2013 12:57 PM
Dana

I would like Leonard to ask his regular restaurant owner guests about these employment practices. Mario Batali and partners (Lidia B.) recently had to settle lawsuits regarding pay and tips! Many restaurant owners get wealthy on the backs of the poorest, lowest paid workers, then turn around and talk about baking Italian cookies on WNYC.

Apr. 26 2013 12:56 PM

...and, Lenny, some of those restaurant owners who steal tips from their waitstaff are some of your buddies who are FREQUENTLY invited onto your show:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2012/03/17/tax-tips-on-tips-from-mario-batali/

http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2012/03/mario-batali-joe-bastianich-lawsuit-settled-for-525-million.html

http://www.examiner.com/article/tv-chef-lidia-bastianich-sued-for-stealing-tips-from-staff-at-swanky-restaurant

Apr. 26 2013 12:54 PM

Every industry relies on customers to pay the workers wages. Just not directly. I agree that different wages for tipped workers must go.

The salary of a minimum wage worker in 1968 commanded more goods and services from the economy than the AVERAGE worker does today...about 23% more.

Apr. 26 2013 12:53 PM
tomLI

Why don't we talk about these things? Because Americans are a population in absolute denial. And when we do talk about social subjects of importance we immediately go to our corners, put on the gloves, and rush out to duke it out. We prefer fighting over talking and actual discussion.

If Americans could hide everything uncomfortable behind closed doors, pulled curtains, etc we would. All while salivating over individual and collective indiscretions of celebrities, and faux-celebs.

Add the American presumption of cheap and large portions (no matter the product we demand it be cheap) we wouldn't care if there were real slaves in those kitchens.

Apr. 26 2013 12:51 PM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

The first segment on the misery cows, the second on the misery of human workers. A very thoughtful hour of radio.

Apr. 26 2013 12:48 PM

I've done my share of restaurant prep work.

Glorified gulag.

Apr. 26 2013 12:47 PM
Ben

I work at a Daniel Boulud restaurant. Everybody at my restaurant works several hours "off the clock" everyday. Maybe you can ask him about that at your upcoming event.

Apr. 26 2013 12:46 PM
Steve from New York, NY

The dirty little underreported secret are the exemptions from the usual minimum wage rules. We need to get rid of ALL the minimum wage exemptions. Same minimum wage, preferably a higher living wage so if working fulltime income is above poverty, for all sectors including restaurant and related service work, farm work and domestic work.

The truth is these exemptions were put into place based on historical racist and sexist policies, not valid economic policy. These industries, these areas of work, were associated with Blacks, Hispanics and Women, and that was why they got the exemptions in the first place.

We all suffer from the economic distortions when some industries get to follow different rules. The workers have the same living expenses as their neighbors who work in a different industry that has higher/regular minimum wage. Their employers have same issues as other employers.

The greatest problem in America today is the 30+ years of increasing income and wealth inequality; wage stagnation; economic insecurity for individuals and families; worsening of short and long-term economic conditions for over 90% of Americans; erosion of working class and middle class; and worsening of intergenerational economic and class mobility. And unequal minimum wage rules is one part of this.

Apr. 26 2013 12:15 PM

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