Report: Bay Area Restaurants Have Worst Racial Income Gap In Country

Beset on all sides by rampant inequality and unaffordability, well-off Bay Area residents can't even escape to a nice restaurant for an escapist meal to forget about it all — because, chances are, the inequality is even worse there. 

The Bay Area's $10.5 billion restaurant industry has the biggest “race-pay gap” in the United States, according to a study released Monday by the Restaurant Opportunities Center, a restaurant industry workers' rights advocacy group.

On average, white workers in Bay Area restaurants make $6.12 an hour more than workers of color, and men in fine dining make $3.12 more an hour than women, according to the report, which surveyed 525 workers and interviewed 41 workers and 25 restaurant employers. 

That's on top of the “usual” Upstairs/Downstairs situations in most restaurants, where the people of color toil in back of the house positions and the white folk smile at you on the way in.

This may surprise you, given that the Bay Area's high minimum wage, mandatory sick days, and other worker-friendly benefits have made this one of the hardest places to try to run a restaurant. 

But wouldn't you know? It get worse.

[jump] In case you didn't know, eating is big business in the Bay. There are 177,807 workers at 10,618 restaurants in the Bay Area, according to the report, which contributes 9.5 percent of the local economy. 

And while there are exemplary restaurant owners who do give their people fair wages — such as the no-tipping models some restaurants explored and then abandoned — and sick days, there are many, many more that do  nt. 

“In particular, we found that occupational segregation, wage violations including misappropriation of tips and service charges, and inadequate access to housing were all severe and had a disproportionate impact on workers of color,” according to the report's authors.

What's that mean? About 26 percent of all restaurant workers are white, but white people make up more than half of bartender and about 35 percent of server positions.

Actual sick days are also a serious issue. Even though paid sick days are a law in San Francisco, more than half of restaurant workers said they had no paid sick days. Thus, they worked sick. And almost two-thirds of sick workers said that they coughed or sneezed while handling food — meaning they could have made you sick.

Then there's the housing issue. Oh, the housing.

“In order to afford [average asking] rent, a worker would need an hourly wage of $30.48 in Oakland and $39.65 in San Francisco, CA,” the report found. “More than 95% of our survey respondents earned less than that amount.”

All in all, a compendium of great news, and reason for feeling guilty beyond the act of eating a $26 burger the people making it can't afford. 

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