WNET’s John Farley comments on the still pervasive inequity in and around restaurant industry kitchens.
“It’s an incredibly male dominated culture,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of the labor advocacy group, Restaurant and Opportunities Center, and the former executive director of its New York branch. “Only one in five chefs in America are women.”
Farley cites a recent report by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United claiming 37 percent of all sexual harassment claims came from the restaurant industry in 2011.
“The report shows that women who work in the industry face systematic discrimination, poverty wages, a lack of sick days, and five times more harassment than the general female workforce. One major cause of poverty for these working women is that restaurant lobbyists have succeeded in keeping the federal minimum wage for servers and other tipped workers frozen at only $2.13 per hour for the past 20 years.”
The report goes on to explain that lower minimum wage for tipped workers is essentially creating legalized gender inequity in the restaurant industry. In most industries, the gender wage gap is due to employer discrimination, but in the restaurant industry, it’s also a matter of law, since 66% of tipped workers are women.
According to the report, seven of the 10 lowest-paid occupations in the United States are restaurant occupations. Most of these occupations are majority female and pay median wages below the poverty line.
Nastaran Mohit, a 29-year-old Brooklyn resident and veteran of the restaurant industry, said harassment is rampant.
“I started catering in Bayside, Queens, when I was 14. That was my first experience with sexual harassment on the job, from an older manager who frequently harassed the female employees — the hostesses and waitresses,” said Mohit.
After that, she worked in restaurants in New York City and Binghamton, N.Y., while attending college, where she said harassment continued.
“It was something that was so common that I think a lot of female waitresses and hostesses assumed that it was just part of the job,” said Mohit, who claims her worst experiences occurred at a Greek restaurant in TriBeCa, where the owner made lewd and racist comments.
“I’ve seen other girls be put in compromising situations, where if they didn’t say ‘yes’ to a manager who asked to go out on a date with them or something stupid like that they’d have their shifts cut back. I saw that a lot, particularly in New York City, not up in Binghamton,” she said.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center United report also disclosed that the majority of higher paid salaried jobs in the kitchen and in management are occupied by men and on average, female servers are paid only 68 percent of what male servers make.