N7E and Labor (Again): A Recapitulation

When discussions take place across separate blogs, and in the Comments sections of even different blogs, the focus begins to blur. Early on, I maintained that, as opposed to a bodega, a 7‑Eleven moving into the vacant space at Avenue A and 11th Street would raise the income of the neighborhood, against the assertion that 7‑Eleven would: 1) reduce the number of jobs; and 2) lower income in the neighborhood via the requirement that part of the profits be sent to the corporate headquarters. I believe I defended this position adequately at The Local Economy?.

Since that time, the conversation has shifted. This is a recent post from the leader of N7E (click on the image if you want to read the entire screed):

rob-on-wages

There appear to be two assertions here — only one of them is direct:
“…replacing a 7‑Eleven with a restaurant in NYC would improve the wage prospects of immigrant workers, documented as well as undocumented.” But the inclusion of wage statistics just before that indicates that they’re making the argument that wages in a restaurant would be higher (for the cook, in any case) than for clerks in a 7‑Eleven, and that a restaurant is, therefore, preferable.

There really isn’t anything to say about “improve the wage prospects of” except that it does not follow from “Mean average for a cooks wage…” just before it. You find this all through their literature. And it’s ambiguous. “[I]mprove the job prospects of” makes more sense. They may be right that it lowers the “wage prospects” of undocumented workers, but they’re going to have to tell us exactly how many people they’re talking about. Are they ready to claim that X number of jobs at less than minimum wage, with employer threats of deportation, are preferable to a similar number of jobs at ≥ minimum wage, with the increased opportunity to organize a union? (I’m going to deal with the topic of organizing in a future post. For now, let this suffice as an example of what 7-Eleven workers can do. I’ve also maintained that, as a large company, 7-Eleven is susceptible to pressure from outside its workforce.)

Now, to the money question. To begin with, why would they cite the mean, average wage for cooks across the country after reading what I posted in Restaurants, which examines the pay of restaurant workers in New York City? Hmmm? Maybe they just skimmed it, and thought “Look, numbers. We should get some numbers too.”

quilas-restaurants-min-wage1

The problem with the BLS figures they cite2 is that they’re not accurate hourly rates. Many are extrapolated from flat rates divided into hours scheduled per week. Others are determined by taking the mean, average annual income (e.g., $23,300), dividing it by 52 weeks, then dividing that by 40 hours, as if cooks worked eight hours a day, five days per week. As already established:

quilas-restaurants-typical-hours1

$23,300 ÷ 52 weeks ÷ 6 days ÷ 12 hours = $6.22/hour.
÷ 10 hours = $7.47/hour.
÷ 8 hours = $9.33/hour.

As we narrow the discussion to increasingly-specific details, like the hourly rate of a cook in a hypothetical restaurant, it becomes more difficult to generalize. A 7‑Eleven at that location that hires ten people instead of seven, or a restaurant that employs a chef instead of a regular cook, limits the inferences we can make. But there are a couple of observations that can be made with certainty: there is no evidence that a restaurant would be significantly better than a 7‑Eleven for either total number of people hired or total wage receipts; and everyone who works at the 7‑Eleven will be paid at least minimum wage, while many of those who work at the restaurant will not be. It’s nothing to write home about, but this discussion has never been about why 7‑Eleven is good, just about why it’s less bad.

***

Finally, almost as an aside, I will address this last claim:

    “The majority (66 percent) of low-wage workers are not employed by small businesses, but rather by large corporations.”3

I have no doubt that this is true, but it’s completely irrelevant to the discussion! (You find this all through their literature.)

It’s funny they should refer to this report. If they had bothered to turn to page 2, they’d have seen the following:

nelp-table-1

Oh well. This isn’t their forte, after all.

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1Unregulated Work in the Restaurant Industry in New York City
2Occupational Employment and Wages News Release
3Big Business, Corporate Profits, and the Minimum Wage

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Restaurants

Six of the ten lowest-paying jobs in the country are in restaurants:1

  • Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers
  • Fast Food Cooks
  • Dishwashers
  • Counter Attendants, Cafeteria, Food Concession, and Coffee Shop
  • Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurants, Lounge and Coffee Shop
  • Dining Room and Cafeteria Attendants and Bartender Helpers

Employment Numbers for the Restaurant Industry in New York City2

Job Classification Number Employed Percentage
Short Order Cooks 5,440 1.267
Chefs and Head Cooks 11,750 2.736
Fast Food Cooks 12,630 2.940
Hosts and Hostesses 14,310 3.332
Non-Restaurant Servers 19,480 4.535
Bussers and Barbacks 21,450 4.994
Dishwashers 26,020 6.058
Bartenders 27,210 6.335
Counter Attendants and Baristas 30,320 7.059
Supervisors and Managers 37,300 8.684
Restaurant Cooks 48,750 11.350
Food Prep Workers 50,130 11.671
Waiters and Waitresses 124,740 29.041
_____ _____
429,530 100.000

 

INDUSTRY SEGMENTS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON

Violations reported in all industry segments, but appear to be concentrated in
(1) expensive “white table cloth” restaurants and (2) independent family-style restaurants, including ethnic restaurants. Fast food and chain and franchise restaurants appear to have fewer violations.

THE JOBS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON

“Back of the house” restaurant jobs: Dishwashers, delivery persons, food prep, line cooks, and porters.
“Front of the house” restaurant jobs: Bussers, runners, bathroom attendants, barbacks, cashiers, counter persons and coat checkers (and in some restaurants, waiters, waitresses and hosts).

Typical wages

    Back of the house jobs:

  • Dishwasher: $180 – $300 per week.
  • Delivery person: $120 – $200 per week.
  • Line cook/food prep: $250 – $400 per week.
    Front of the house jobs:

  • Busser/barback: $150 – $200 per week including tips.
  • Runner: $120 – $180 per week (rush hours only, usually paid as
    percentage of tips).
  • Coat check & bathroom attendants: $20 – $80 a night.
  • Cashiers/counter persons: $222 – $320 per week.
  • Waiters/waitresses: $300 – $480 per week including tips.

Typical hours
On average, kitchen staff tend to work 6 days a week, between 8 and 12 hours a day, with some dishwashers and cooks working double shifts. In the front of the restaurant, bussers and runners work the same hours as kitchen staff. Wait staff tend to work 3–5 days per week (hours can range from 20–45 per week).

Payment method
Dishwashers, runners, bussers, and delivery persons tend to be off the books, while servers, bartenders and managerial jobs are more likely to be on the books. High-end and chain restaurants have the majority of their sales on credit cards, which can force more jobs to be on the books.

Benefits
Health benefits are generally not offered to front-line staff; when offered, the employee co–pay is usually high, resulting in low take-up rates. In the kitchen, workers may get one week unpaid vacation, but no sick days.

Immigration status
High representation of undocumented immigrants in back of the house jobs (as well as some lower-wage jobs in the front). But long tenures in the industry mean that there are also significant numbers of documented immigrants.

INTERMEDIARIES PLACING WORKERS IN UNREGULATED JOBS

(1) Employment agencies for immigrant workers and (2) much less frequently, non-profit public agencies for people transitioning off welfare or out of prison. At employment agencies, placement fees range from $50 up to a weeks’ earnings, paid by the worker, plus possibly an additional $25 application fee. Some employment agencies specialize in restaurant placements for Mexican workers.

COMMON WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS

Minimum wage and overtime

  • Minimum wage: The industry’s pay structure of flat weekly wages for more than full-time work suggests that minimum wage violations are common. For example, typical earnings of $300 per week for 60 hours translates into an hourly wage of $5 (without considering time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours). Coat checkers and delivery persons can make as low as $3 an hour.
  • Overtime: Non-payment of overtime appears common for almost all positions.
  • Tips: For tipped positions, common violations include being paid only in tips, or the employer taking a percentage of tips. Bussers often do not get tips owed them.

Non-payment of wages
Occurs mainly for kitchen jobs, especially dishwashers. Can take the form of full non-payment, partial non-payment, or several months backlog of payment.

Illegal deductions
Workers report employers deducting arbitrary amounts from wages for broken plates, spoiled food, etc.

Meal breaks
Lack of meal breaks, or erratic meal breaks, is a pervasive problem. A single meal break for a 12-hour shift is common.

Employer taxes
Restaurants are heavily cash-based, and most workers do not receive pay stubs. Employer taxes are often not paid, or not paid for the actual number of workers on site.

OSHA
Health & safety violations occur mainly in kitchens: electrical dangers, inadequate fire safety, lack of cutting guards on machines, lack of slip mats, lack of required ventilation.

Workers’ Compensation
Rarely offered. Employers may pay a one-time hospital bill out of pocket in order to avoid an official claim, and instruct workers to say that the injury did not occur at work.

Discrimination
Evidence of discrimination in hiring and promotion on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, and accent – particularly for front of the house jobs. Harassment based on national origin and gender.

Retaliation & the right to organize
Employers’ retaliation in response to complaints about working conditions and attempts to organize include threats to call immigration, punishing the worker with bad shifts or bad hours, and outright retaliatory firing.

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1The 10 Lowest Paid Jobs in America
2Employment Numbers for the Restaurant Industry in New York City
3Unregulated Work in the Restaurant Industry in New York City
The Welcome Table