Study: Most can't support a family on Philadelphia restaurant wages

Posted: October 11, 2012

Two out of three restaurant workers in Philadelphia would not be able to support a family of three on their wages, according to a study of the city's restaurant industry released today.

"Philadelphia restaurant workers are worse off than they were a decade ago," notes the report titled "Behind the Kitchen Door: The Hidden Reality of Philadelphia's Thriving Restaurant Industry."

Restaurant employees also face rampant discrimination, wage theft and unsafe working conditions, the report said.

The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association was not immediately available for comment.

Commissioned by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Philadelphia, a nonunion worker advocacy group, and the Philadelphia Restaurant Industry Coalition, the study was based on analysis of government data and interviews with 33 workers and 30 restaurant owners or managers.

In the past 20 years, restaurant employment grew faster than most employment in the city of Philadelphia, yet wages declined in comparison, according to the report, released Wednesday at a news conference at Tequilas restaurant at 16th and Locust Streets in Center City.

The report cites U.S. Labor Department statistics to show that annual restaurant wages decreased by 11 percent from $20,705 in 2001 to $18,488 in 2011 while private sector wages rose by 8 percent in the same time period.

"The restaurant industry provides both an opportunity and a threat to the economy," the report said.

"On the one hand, this industry can provide jobs to millions," the report said.

But the industry's low wages prolong the economic stagnation since restaurant workers don't have enough money to be avid consumers, the report said.

Restaurant workers rarely have health insurance and often work sick since many restaurants do not provide sick pay as a benefit, the report said.

One in four workers said they had done something due to time pressure that may have harmed the health and safety of customers and more than half have been injured on the job, the report said.

Forty percent of those surveyed for the report complained that they were forced to work off the clock without pay and 57.9 percent said they had not been paid overtime after working more than 40 hours in a week.

Also, there is rampant discrimination, with higher-paying waitstaff and bartending jobs usually held by whites, usually males, with lower-paid kitchen jobs held by minorities, particularly Latinos and Asians, the report said.

The report recommends that policymakers push to raise the minimum wage and the minimum tipped wage and support sick-day legislation.

To reduce the industry's high turnover rates, employers should raise wages and benefits, provide sick pay and improve employees' work situation by scheduling further in advance to allow planning, the report said.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center of Philadelphia is part of a national organization, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. The Philadelphia Restaurant Industry Coalition includes groups that advocate on behalf of workers, immigrants and women.

The report was researched by the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, a nonprofit organization funded by unions and advocacy groups.

The Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund, and other foundations paid for the study. The news conference was held at Tequilas because the organizations consider the Mexican haute cuisine restaurant to be an example of a company that takes "the high road," as the study describes it, to the treatment of restaurant workers.


Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at jvonbergen@phillynews.com, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing .

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