Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Yet another Republican lie

The Republicans insist that anyone who works hard can make it in America without any help from anyone else, especially government.

In $8 Billion Restaurant Industry, a Study Finds Mostly 'Bad Jobs'


A new study of New York City's restaurant industry has found that at least 36 percent of its workers are illegal immigrants, that 59 percent of restaurant workers surveyed reported overtime violations, and that 73 percent said they had no health insurance.

The study is scheduled for release today by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, an advocacy group for restaurant workers. Assistance with the study was provided by numerous community groups, economists and sociologists.

According to the study, most of the city's more than 165,000 restaurant workers earned less than $20,000 a year and 13 percent reported minimum wage violations. The study also found that 33 percent of the city's restaurant workers reported verbal abuse by their employers and that 19 percent said management illegally took a share of the tips.

"While there are a few 'good' restaurant jobs in the restaurant industry, the majority are 'bad jobs,' characterized by low wages, few benefits and limited opportunities for upward mobility of increased income," the report concluded.

The study, based on surveys of 530 restaurant workers and in-depth interviews with 35 restaurant executives and 45 workers, found that many restaurant executives said rent and other costs in New York were so high that they feared they would go out of business if they provided better wages and benefits. The study said the city had more than 15,000 food and drinking establishments with total revenue of more than $8 billion a year.

The study said fast food workers earned $6.99 an hour on average, restaurant dishwashers earned $7.64 an hour; waiters, $9.33 an hour; and cooks, $13.45 an hour.

E. Charles Hunt, executive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association, questioned the survey's representation of the industry.

He said restaurants played an important role in helping the city's immigrants, noting that "the restaurant industry is one of the few industries that offer opportunities for new citizens and for people who have just come to this country."

According to the study, employers who were interviewed recognized that the wages they paid were barely enough to live on, but they said it would be extremely difficult to pay a living wage and still make a profit. The study quoted one restaurant executive who said providing health benefits would be extremely hard and could be the difference between staying in business and going under.
This is not a question of ideology. This is not a question of lazy bums looking for a handout. This is mission impossible. Restaurants literally can't pay their workers a living wage. The people who work there, no matter how hard they work, can't possibly work long enough hours to earn enough.

Whose fault is that? Probably nobody's. I don't want to pay enormous prices when I eat out and neither do you. There's a limit on how much restaurants can charge and stay in business. As much of a labor advocate as I am, I can't insist on any business going broke just to establish a principle of a living wage.

So what to do? Basically, conservatives have no answer. When you create the false notion of "self-reliance" (if you succeed you did it all on your own, so if you fail you did that all on your own, too), you make it impossible to deal with structural failures of your economic system. It's not any one person's fault that restaurants (and most other low-wage businesses) literally can't pay their workers enough to live on. Walmart probably could, but that's for another rant. It's not the business owners' fault, and it's certainly not the workers'.

Yet, the workers are being penalized for what is really a major contribution to our economy. If all the low-wage workers got together and went out on strike (I know, it can't and won't ever happen, but use your imagination), the country would be totally crippled. We have a large middle class because we don't have to pay too much for various necessary services. That requires that the people who perform and provide those services receive minimal compensation. Therefore, as far as I'm concerned, it is society as a whole that should reward those poorly paid service workers. But in our Republican-dominated "me first, me only" world, there is no "society" to work together as a whole to take care of the poorly paid, essential workers. They are spare parts, less than animals, deserving no consideration. If they starve, it's their fault.

Even though we can't do without them.
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