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Worker Advocate: Nation's Biggest Industry Fostering Low Wage, Low Benefit Workplace

Saru Jayaraman: Food industry 'proliferating lowest paying jobs with the least benefits, least amount of paid sick days'

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The nation's biggest industry is fostering a low-wage, low-benefit workplace, charges restaurant worker advocate Saru Jayaraman.

Co-founder and co-executive director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United and author of the bestselling Behind The Kitchen Door Jayaraman appeared on Up with Chris Hayes on Saturday and brought to light some of conditions that leave food industry workers forced to work sick and rely on food stamps.

Jayaraman said, "You've got the largest industry in America basically proliferating the lowest paying jobs with the least benefits," and added that "it also is the industry with the least amount of paid sick days, so the workers in this industry don't have a way to get paid when they're sick, which means two-thirds of them report cooking, preparing and serving food when they're ill."

Urging the need for some guaranteed minimum wage to provide a livable standard, Jayaraman remarked: "Right now, food service workers use food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce and suffer poverty rate of three times the rest of the workforce."

The minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13, a rate, Jayaraman noted, that has been at this level for 22 years.


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Jayaraman was joined on the panel with chef Tom Colicchio, Andrew Moesel, spokesperson for the New York State Restaurant Association, and Victoria Bruton, restaurant worker and member of Restaurant Opportunities Centers.

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What can the average diner do about the working conditions of the people who brought them their food? Jayaraman said in a recent appearance on Moyers & Company, "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."


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