ROC United Diners Guide 2012 – Eye Opener!

This past week a new study was released by the Restaurant Opportunities Center who surveyed 4300 workers for their 2012 National Diners Guide. The survey has brought to light some shocking facts about the wages, sick leave and general he working conditions in many franchise restaurants in the USA.

As a long time restaurant operator one might think that I would side with the corporate franchisors or individual franchisees who chose to adopt a policy of no pay for sick days, “minimum wage” or the painfully low tipped wage of $2.13! Having spent many years in different countries with a range of wage rates, strong unions, weak unions and other factors affecting the hourly worker; it saddens and repulses me that in this wealthy country our service workers are forced to work for a “minimum wage” well below the poverty line.

In other western, industrialized countries (Australia, New Zealand, many European and Scandinavian countries, etc, etc, etc…) the minimum wage is based on the amount of money a person needs to survive. This includes a reasonable level of health care, sick days and vacation pay (4 weeks per year for full-time workers!). Whereas in the US it seems the minimum wage is actually calculated on the minimum an employer can get away with paying! Interestingly, the price you pay at the counter in many of the countries mentioned is not proportionately higher than it is here. So what gives?

In Australia, for example, most hourly adult workers in the service industry will be earning between $18 and $22 per hour depending on the state where they work. This is taxed income and due to the fact that people earn a reasonable wage, they are able to spend this money thereby assisting the government coffers and the economy overall. Could this be one of the reasons Australia has not suffered a full-blown recession during this global meltdown?

It boils down to respect for people in general. It is disturbing to hear the way some employers begrudge having to provide health insurance or the (shock horror) idea of paying more than minimum wage. Personally I believe a major adjustment is in order to get this right. And it will be a long time coming if it ever happens.

I am very anxious to see the reaction of the food industry as this report becomes more widely known. Mark Bittman can be given some credit for talking about it in his NY Times column. One wonders if it will be swept under the rug or will certain players in the restaurant industry be taken to task for their Dickensian working conditions.

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