California Restaurant Industry Discriminates Against Workers of Color, Report Finds

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A new report from labor advocates and University of California researchers documents the many ways in which the retaurant industry discriminates against workers of color, with detailed analyses of wage disparities and racially biased hiring practices in California. The study — authored by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, with research support from UC Berkeley's Food Labor Research Center and UC Santa Cruz — analyzes how people of color, and minority women in particular, face significant barriers to obtaining fine-dining jobs that provide livable wages.

Released today at an event at the East Bay Community Foundation in Oakland, "Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry" details how women and workers of color remain concentrated in the lowest paying segments of the industry. Meanwhile, white men on average earn higher wages than people of color and women doing the same jobs at every level in the industry. 

ROC, a national organization that advocates for restaurant workers, analyzed national and California government data on wages by gender, race, and occupation. The group also conducted interviews with restaurant owners and managers primarily in Oakland and San Francisco. The group collaborated with academics to analyze the statistics and incorporated findings from hundreds of worker interviews it conducted for previous ROC studies. The new study paints a picture of an industry plagued by widespread segregation, with white men disproportionately occupying front-of-the-house service positions while Black and Latino employees dominate the lower-paying back-of-the-house kitchen jobs. 

According to the report, workers of color receive 56 percent lower earnings when compared to equally qualified white workers (adjusting for education and language proficiency), and women of color on average earn 71 percent of what white men earn. In California, Latinos experience the highest levels of "occupational segregation," with substantial underrepresentation in higher-paying server and bartender positions, the report found. Latinos make up 52 percent of all restaurant employees, but make up 65 percent of all back-of-the-house workers. In service jobs, Latinos make 82 percent as much as whites in the same positions ($10.58 versus $12.85), and in higher-paying positions, Latinos make 86 percent as much as whites ($11.62 versus $13.45). And Black workers in the state are overrepresented in limited-service fast-food occupations. Additionally, when people of color are employed in jobs that are typically higher-paying, they still earn substantially lower average wages than white staff. 

In California, women of color across the industry earned $10.13 per hour on average, while white women earned $11.30, men of color earned $11.63, and white men earned $14.18:


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And this chart here shows how white workers in the United States and in California occupy the vast majority of the highest-paying, fine-dining jobs and a smaller percent of the lowest-paying kitchen jobs:


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In terms of gender segregation, women are also largely underrepresented in the fine-dining high-paying jobs:


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In past research projects, ROC found that white job applicants were more likely to get interviews than people of color and twice as likely to be hired than equally or better-qualified workers of color applying to the same fine-dining establishments. The group reached this alarming conclusion after sending more than hundreds of candidates to fine-dining restaurants — comparing how restaurants responded to equally matched white and minority applicants.

The new report recommended that restaurants adopt incentives, mandates, and prohibitions to combat discriminatory practices. The report suggested that restaurants consider implementing specific "implicit bias trainings" — similar to efforts police departments have recently adopted to combat profiling. Policymakers should also support workforce development programs that offer free or low-cost training targeted to workers of color and women who want to advance to front-of-the-house positions, according to the report.

As part of the release of the study today, ROC and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an Oakland-based nonprofit, promoted a new joint project called the "Restore Oakland Center" aimed at supporting low-wage restaurant workers. The East Oakland-based program will be a multi-service center that includes a ROC-run restaurant and the organization's job-training program. The center would also function as an incubator site for worker-owned enterprises and would house other Ella Baker Center-facilitated programs. 

You can read the full "Ending Jim Crow in America's Restaurants" report here

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