Miserable Restaurant Worker Pay an Industry-Wide Problem: What Can Be Done?

For several years, our New York wage and hour lawyers have been on the vanguard of a movement agitating for better treatment and fairer pay for restaurant workers. New reports about recent claims against McDonald’s suggest that discrimination, harassment, and wage and hour violations may be even more widespread in the industry than critics have suspected.

The fast food industry is an enormous job engine, currently responsible for 9% of private sector jobs in the U.S., employing 5.5 million women and 5.1 million men. A recent Mother Jones piece investigating the restaurant industry, based in part on information from the Economic Policy Institute, revealed some shocking statistics:

  • Median wage for all forms of payment (tip, tipshare, and flat rate) has stalled at $10/hour for the last 15 years. Non-restaurant U.S. workers, meanwhile, earn a median wage of $18.
  • The median wages for managers at fast food restaurants stands at $15.42/hour; and many of these managers complain about limited opportunities for advancement and upward mobility.
  • Gender and cultural divisions persist. Men, for instance, hold higher-paying positions in restaurants than do women. Hispanic and black workers, meanwhile, have a disproportionate share of the lowest paying positions (e.g., cashiers, dishwashers, and cooks).
  • Undocumented workers account for an astonishing 15.7% of the industry.
  • Restaurants provide only 14.4% of workers with health insurance, and even fewer workers (8.4%) have pensions.
  • Unions in the restaurant industry cover just 1.8% of workers; some workers’ rights advocates suggest that wide-scale unionization could lead to a meaningful increase in overall wages and cut way down on the practices that lead to discrimination, harassment and wage and hour issues.
  • The poverty rate for those who work in the restaurant industry is almost three times higher than the total poverty rate in the nation.
  • Needless to say, many workers in the restaurant industry have to work excessive hours; and these employees often still do not make enough money to rise above the poverty line.

So what can be done about these issues?

The Mother Jones report offered several potential solutions, many of which involve legislative action to enforce fair working standards for restaurant workers. Some solutions proposed include increasing overtime rates, providing for sick days for workers, and updating labor laws.

Are you confused about your rights in the workplace? Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP right now at (212) 688-5640, or email the team at info@jhllp.com, to explore what you can do about an employer whom you suspect has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), New York Labor Laws (NYLL) or other labor laws.

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