Nice Restaurant

US Restaurant Workers Demanding Livable Wages Amid Reopenings 

America’s restaurant industry has opened up for business, however, a majority of staffers in these eateries are still coping with the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic, its economic impact, and the responsibility of enforcing health and safety protocols on angry customers for small wages. 

Restaurants all throughout the country have been struggling to find enough workers who are willing to fill open positions for minimum payment. Many industry workers throughout the nation blame the labor shortages on poor pay, unsafe working conditions, disrespect from customers, and concerns over the pandemic in general. 

Iesha Franceis is an employee at a Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers chain in Durham, North Carolina, who recently spoke to the Guardian about why she believes restaurants throughout the nation are struggling.  

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“I currently make $11.40 an hour, employees are still struggling and employers are still not caring, and it’s their own fault these corporations are experiencing worker shortages. We are all still not making livable wages and these companies are still trying to penny pinch any way that they can.”

The leisure and hospitality industry currently has 1.7 million fewer jobs available when compared to before the pandemic. For the food industry, jobs declined by 42,000 in the month of August 2021, and overall has experienced a surge of workers quitting all throughout 2021. 

Francis herself led multiple walkouts at her restaurant over Covid-19 safety concerns and poor working conditions throughout the entire pandemic. This is a common form of protest that many industry workers have turned to in order to show their employers that they should be valued for being an essential worker during a global health crisis, and being paid like they’re working a summer job in high school is not going to cut it anymore. 

Franceis explained “many employees left through the pandemic while operating hours are still reduced, which has left me and my co-workers to deal with increased workloads and work extra hours to try to compensate for staffing shortages.

“Pay me what I’m worth. Because if I can sacrifice myself for your business to keep your wheels turning, then it’s time that you sacrifice yourself to keep my wheels turning. It’s off of our backs that their lives are so easy.”

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A spokesperson for Freddy’s said in an email: “Freddy’s has an uncompromising commitment to safety and expects each of our franchisees to provide a safe working environment for their employees, including following proper cleaning and sanitation protocols. Additionally, as an independent franchisee, the local owner in Durham is solely responsible for setting their employees’ hourly pay and salaries.”

Lily Nicholson is a server at a restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee who discussed the constant harassment and issues workers are facing from customers who refuse to abide by mask mandates and Covid-19 safety protocols. Leading to a much bigger discussion over why low-paid employees are having to deal with verbal abuse from customers when they’re the ones working during a pandemic to provide services. 

“It’s such a precarious scenario. We’ve been the worker who has been deputized into enforcing this rule at the door that you’re supposed to have a mask on, so at the door you already have an altercation,” said Nicholson.

Many fast food employees also had no paid sick leave throughout the entire pandemic, so if they did happen to catch Covid, they were losing money everyday they had to stay home, and in some cases, employees were fired for not showing up. 

Essential workers in every industry are growing tired of not being as valued as the nation has made it seem to be throughout the past two years. Individuals are literally putting their lives on the line to clock into work and make the bare minimum so they can continue to scrap by. Time will tell how much longer the food industry, and others, will be able to last without a proper source of labor. 

Minimum Wage Increase

$15 An Hour Minimum Wage Leads To Increase In Revenue And Employment For New York City

When the minimum wage increased to $15 an hour in New York City almost a year ago, December 2018, it was met with an extreme amount of criticism, especially from those working in the restaurant industry. The assumption was that in order for restaurant owners to keep up with paying their employees they would need to make serious layoffs, increase the price of their menu items which would cause a decrease in patrons coming in and supporting the business, leading to massive amounts of restaurant closures. What these individuals fail to realize is that they’re in New York City, already one of the most expensive places in the world to live, go out, eat, and experience in general. So when food prices went up, no one really batted an eye. 

In fact, the opposite of this assumption has been occuring. According to Market Watch, both restaurant revenue and overall employment is up compared to last year, which was already pretty high. The reasoning is that a lot of New York City restaurants didn’t actually need to increase their prices to keep up with the new pay increase. Most remained exactly the same actually. 

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“A one-time increase of 10% to 15% is unlikely to dissuade large numbers of customers from dining out. That would amount to an extra $1.20 on a $12 burger,” wrote Nicole Hallett for Market Watch

According to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, there’s massive business potential if minimum wage workers are making more money. More money in the lower wage working market means that these workers will have more money to spend and that can indirectly be put back into the restaurant business with an increase in these individuals eating out. Additionally the reports claim that an increase in minimum wage will lead to an overall increase in employment because of the benefits of giving lower-wage workers a raise, this same reasoning will also lead to better job performances.

The economy in the state of New York in general is also relatively good compared to other parts of the country. So when businesses needed to make cuts within the past year to keep up, it wasn’t that difficult to lay out areas that can be less costly or removed from budgets in general. 

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New York officials have continued this minimum wage debate throughout the year and now are in discussion about whether or not to get rid of tip credits in the industry. A tip credit in the restaurant industry means that employers can actually pay their employees $10 an hour even with a mandated $15 an hour minimum wage. They can do this as long as employees are making a minimum of $5 an hour in tips. The tip credit is another huge reason why employers have remained successful throughout the past year, as they didn’t even really have to pay their employees more. However, state officials are preparing for the same level of backlash, if not more, as last year if they decide to remove tip credit policies. 

Abolishing a tip credit will ensure that all employees have a steady income that remains stable regardless of how busy a restaurant may be during a given shift. According to Market Watch, seven states in the U.S. have already gotten rid of the tip credit, including Alaska and Washington. State officials are encouraging restaurant owners, and any other employer who is concerned about the financial loss they might receive if the tip credit gets abolished, to look at the data from the last year, and understand where in the world you are. In New York City, people are always eating out and business is always booming. So be considerate of those just trying to make a livable wage, and be in support of their increase in pay.