Food Insecurity of Restaurant Workers

Food Chain Workers Alliance, Food First and Restaurant Opportunities Center | 07.24.2014

2014 07 Food Insecurity of Restaurant Workers report-1-1The Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) and the Restaurant Opportunities Center of the Bay (ROC the Bay), and Food First release a new report, Food Insecurity of Restaurant Workers, a first comprehensive look at food security and employment conditions of workers in the restaurant industry – one of the nation’s largest sectors of employment and the sector of the food chain that employs the most workers with 10 million employees.

According to the new report, employment conditions significantly affect restaurant workers’ ability to feed themselves and their families. Almost one quarter of restaurant workers reported relying on restaurant food because they did not have time to cook at home, and over one quarter reported relying on restaurant food because they could not afford to buy enough food. Wage and tip theft, unpaid overtime, lack of paid sick time and lack of employer-sponsored health insurance are associated with an increased risk of food insecurity among restaurant workers. The sad irony is that many restaurant workers, despite making our food system work, cannot afford to feed themselves or their families.

“One of the sad things is that when you work in a restaurant, most of the servers are starving. There are long hours, no breaks, and low wages, so we’re always starving,” said Carolina Portillo, restaurant server and ROC-NY member. “It’s ironic that we are serving food and we are hungry.”

Frequent occurrence of wage and tip theft, lack of overtime pay, and variable work schedule increase risk of food insecurity among restaurant workers.

Released in conjunction with July 24 the National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage, the new report offers the first comprehensive look at the extent of food security among restaurant workers and how employment conditions affect the ability of restaurant workers to feed themselves and their families in one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing industries. This report provides recommendations for employers, policymakers, and consumers to ensure just and equitable conditions for the people working in the food system.

ROCNY3Key findings include:

  • Demographic Disparities: Twice as many restaurant workers reported being food insecure compared to the overall U.S. population, the New York City population, and the San Francisco Bay Area population. Workers in the San Francisco Bay Area were 17% less likely overall to be food insecure than those in New York City. Compared to documented immigrants, undocumented immigrants were about 24% more likely to experience food insecurity. Bay Area restaurant workers who served organic or “sustainable” ingredients were 22% more likely to be food insecure compared to other Bay Area restaurant workers.
  • Food Security and Employment Conditions: Frequent occurrence of wage and tip theft, lack of overtime pay, and variable work schedule increase risk of food insecurity. Full-time status, paid time off or paid sick days, on the job training, employer-sponsored health insurance, and wages of at least $15.00/hour decrease the risk of food insecurity.
  • Employment Conditions and Labor Affiliation: Workers employed in restaurants with union contracts or that are committed to “high road” employment practices reported better employment conditions than other workers. These workers were more likely to receive paid time off, vacation days, paid sick days, on the job training, employer sponsored health insurance, time and a half overtime, and less likely to experience wage and tip theft compared to other workers.
  • Food Security and Labor Affiliation: Workers employed in restaurants with union contracts or committed to “high road” employment practices reported significantly lower prevalence of food insecurity compared to other workers. These restaurant workers were 19% less likely to experience food insecurity than other workers who were not unaffiliated with a union, collective bargaining agreement, or a “high road” restaurant (33%).
  • Advancing justice for food workers: There is tremendous potential to engage policymakers, employers, and consumers in raising restaurant industry standards to increase food security among workers. Policymakers can increase the minimum wage and can guarantee common employee benefits and the right for restaurant workers to organize. Employers can increase wages and benefits, and adopt benefits, such as paid sick days. Consumers can support businesses that are providing livable wages and benefits, and speak out against those that are not.

There is tremendous potential to engage policymakers, employers, and consumers in raising restaurant industry standards to increase food security among workers.

Click here to download the full report.

Click here for additional data tables.