It’s not just waitstaff – chefs (unless you own the restaurant) are getting paid peanuts, too:
Many people in the nascent food movement and in the broader “foodie” set know our farmers’ (and their kids’) names and what their animals eat. We practically worship chefs, and the damage done to land, air and water by high-tech ag is — correctly — a constant concern.
Yet though you can’t be a card-carrying foodie if you don’t know the provenance of your heirloom tomato, you apparently can be one if you don’t know how the members of your wait staff are treated. We don’t seem to mind or even notice that our servers might be making $2.13 an hour. That tip you debate increasing to 20 percent might be the difference in making the rent.
It’s true that a bit of attention has been paid to farmworkers — with some good results — and occasionally you read about the horrors of life in a slaughterhouse. But despite our obsession with food, the worker is an afterthought.
The Hands That Feed Us, and the work being done on the ground by groups like ROC-U — which contributed to the report and helped create the Food Chain Workers Alliance in 2008 — may signal the beginning of a change.
Take that $2.13 figure, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers. Legally, tips should cover the difference between that and the federal minimum wage, now a whopping $7.25. If they don’t, employers are obligated to make up the difference. But that doesn’t always happen, leaving millions of servers — 70 percent of whom are women — taking home far less than the minimum wage.
Which brings us to the happily almost-forgotten Herman Cain. What’s called the “tipped minimum wage” — that $2.13 — once increased in proportion to the regular minimum wage. But in 1996, the year Cain took over as head of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), he struck a deal with President Bill Clinton and his fellow Democrats. In exchange for an increase in the regular minimum wage, the tipped minimum wage was de-coupled. The result: despite regular increases in the regular minimum wage, the tipped minimum wage hasn’t changed since 1991.
Other disheartening facts: Around one in eight jobs in the food industry provides a wage greater than 150 percent of the regional poverty level. More than three-quarters of the workers surveyed don’t receive health insurance from their employers. (Fifty-eight percent don’t have it at all; national health care, anyone?) More than half have worked while sick or suffered injuries or health problems on the job, and more than a third reported some form of wage theft in the previous week. Not year: week.