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Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry

Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry
Photo of Advanced CHOW Trainees Sheena Redmond and David Hardiman, serving The Ford Foundation Trustee Dinner held at Colors Detroit. Photo courtesy of Daphne Doerr Photography.
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RESTAURANT OPPORTUNITIES CENTERS UNITED

 


  • Executive Summary

    It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment.
    —JIM CROW LAW, ALABAMA1

    Jim Crow laws were state and local laws regulating racial segregation in public and private spaces (public accommodations) in the US South. Discrimination in public accommodations was finally outlawed with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While Jim Crow regulated the enforced separation between white and African American patrons in restaurants, today we largely find that restaurant workers are effectively segregated by race and gender by a partition between livable-wage server and bartender positions and poverty wage busser, runner, and kitchen positions, and between limited service (fast food), full service casual, and full service fine-dining restaurants. White males appear to be afforded the opportunity to work in the highest paying, most exclusive bartender and server positions in fine-dining restaurants; women, in general, appear channeled towards lower paying positions in casual full-service restaurants; while Latinos and African Americans seem largely channeled to lower paying busser, runner, or kitchen positions in full service restaurants and to limited-service, fast food establishments.2 Women of color see the largest impact of such segregation on their wages, while African Americans, in many locations, are largely excluded from participation in the most lucrative segments of the industry.3,4 It is time to end the occupational Jim Crow that pervades the industry and ensure women and workers of color are provided genuine opportunities leading to equitable outcomes.

    The restaurant industry employs nearly 11 million workers and is one of the fastest growing sectors of the US economy.5 Despite the industry’s growth, restaurant workers occupy seven of the ten lowest-paid occupations reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the economic position of workers of color in the restaurant industry is particularly precarious.6 Restaurant workers experience poverty at nearly three times the rate of workers overall, and workers of color experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of white restaurant workers.7

    The restaurant industry can do better. Up to 20% of restaurant jobs provide livable-wages, and fine-dining servers and bartenders in cities like San Francisco and Oakland can earn between $50,000 and $150,000 per year.8 Unfortunately, people of color and in particular women of color face significant barriers in obtaining these livable-wage positions.9 From 2007 until 2013, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) conducted more than 400 matched pair audit tests, sending pairs of evenly matched white and people of color applicants into fine-dining restaurants to see who would be hired in fine-dining server positions, and on that basis published a series of reports called The Great Service Divide. ROC found that white workers were more likely to be interviewed, and twice as likely to be hired, as equally or better-qualified workers of color applying to the same fine-dining establishments.10 This finding has been bolstered by recent research by economist John Nunley, who found qualified young applicants of color less likely to be interviewed than their white counterparts, with the highest racial discrimination occurring in service jobs that have substantial customer interaction.11

    Workers of color are concentrated in lower-level busser and kitchen positions in fine-dining restaurants, and overall in segments of the industry in which earnings are lower. A canvass of 133 fine-dining establishments ound that 81% of management and 78% of higher-level non-management positions such as captain, manager, and bartender are occupied by white workers, a disproportionate amount of these male.12 Mobility for workers of color is limited; of workers that have been denied a promotion, 28% cited race as the primary reason for their lack of opportunities.13 Overall, after adjusting for education and language proficiency, workers of color receive 56% lower earnings when compared to equally qualified white workers.14

    In this report, we go beyond simply the patterns of discrimination in the restaurant industry to understand in greater detail the factors contributing to this racial segregation and explore interventions that can be effective in overcoming these patterns. From 2013 to 2015, ROC convened a series of gatherings of employment discrimination experts and attorneys to explore potential policy and programmatic interventions; these cohorts determined that further research was needed to more deeply understand the biases, barriers, and challenges expressed by workers, employers, and consumers that perpetuate segregation in the industry. In this report, the first step after those gatherings, ROC conducted extensive analysis of government data and a series of interviews with employers to understand the extent and methods of further research needed to design policy and programmatic interventions to address segregation. We then discussed the findings with employment discrimination experts and attorneys, and referenced an extensive database of worker interviews. We chose California as the appropriate place to conduct this research and to engage in future policy development.

    California is a critical place to examine racial segregation in the restaurant industry, with implications for the industry nationwide. California is the state with the nation’s largest restaurant industry, including several cities that are repeatedly named among the top dining destinations nationwide, and one of the most diverse populations of any state in the country. California state and local laws also provide restaurant workers with better wages and basic benefits, like paid sick days, than most other states, leaving racial segregation and lack of mobility among workers of color as one of the key issues restaurant workers seek to address.

    In an effort to better understand occupational segregation within the restaurant industry, we engaged in an in-depth analysis of wages by gender, race, and occupation nationwide, by minimum wage level, and within California by examining the Current Population Survey, coupled with a more exploratory analysis comprised of a dozen interviews conducted with owners and general managers interested in discussing successes and challenges in addressing occupational segregation — primarily in Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area, but also in Los Angeles, and San Diego — during June and July 2015. We then discussed these findings with academics and experts, and compared them to hundreds of worker interviews from previous ROC studies.

     

    Endnotes

    1. “Jim Crow Laws,” Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, Georgia, National Park Service. [http://www.nps.gov/malu/learn/education/jim_crow_laws.htm]
    2. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, The Great Service Divide: Occupational Segregation & Inequality in the US Restaurant Industry (New York, NY: ROC United, 2014).
    3. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Behind the Kitchen Door: The Hidden Reality of Philadelphia’s Thriving Restaurant Industry, 43 (New York, NY: ROC United, 2012).
    4. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Behind the Kitchen Door: The Hidden Costs of Taking the Low Road in Chicagoland’s Thriving Restaurant Industry, 39 (New York, NY: ROC United, 2010).
    5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, Hours, and Earnings from Current Employment Statistics, August 2015.[www.bls.gov/ces/]
    6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, “Employment and wages for the highest and lowest paying occupations”, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. [http://www.bls.gov/oes/2014/may/high_low_paying.htm]
    7. Heidi Shierholz, Low Wages and Few Benefits Mean Many Restaurant Workers Can’t Make Ends Meet (Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute, 2014).
    8. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Behind the Kitchen Door: A Multi-Site Study of the Restaurant Industry (New York, NY: ROC United, 2011).
    9. Ibid.
    10. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, The Great Service Divide: Occupational Segregation & Inequality in the US Restaurant Industry, 2 (New York, NY: ROC United, 2014).
    11. John M. Nunley, Adam Pugh, Nicholas Romero, and R. Alan Seals, “Racial Discrimination in the Labor Market for Recent College Graduates: Evidence from a Field Experiment.” The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 15 (3) (2015).
    12. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, The Great Service Divide: Occupational Segregation & Inequality in the US Restaurant Industry, 12 (New York, NY: ROC United, 2014).
    13. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Behind the Kitchen Door: A Multi-Site Study of the Restaurant Industry (New York, NY: ROC United, 2011).
    14. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, The Great Service Divide: Occupational Segregation & Inequality in the US Restaurant Industry, 13 (New York, NY: ROC United, 2014).


  • Press Coverage

    Underneath Five-Star Veneer, High-End Restaurant Employees Get Worked Over
    The American Prospect | June 23, 2016

    When Tipping Doesn’t Make the Difference
    EBONY | February 15, 2016

    The Stark Racial Divide In Pay For Restaurant Workers
    NPR The Salt blog | October 22, 2015

    People of Color Are Paid 56 Percent Less Than White Workers in Restaurant Industry: Study
    Eater | October 22, 2015

    Study finds that women, underrepresented minorities face discrimination in California restaurants
    The Daily Californian | October 21, 2015

    Study examines racial and income divides in restaurant industry
    San Francisco Chronicle | October 20, 2015