Archive for January 3rd, 2007

Wage to Live: supporting restaurant workers in NYC

I’d like to start highlighting work by community and social justice organizations, so here’s a start: Wage to Live, a recently-formed non-profit organization that is working towards a living wage for restaurant workers in NYC.

We all know that working in a restaurant can be a really rough job. Not only is it ass-busting, frustrating work (think of all the difficult diners you see out there, or how difficult a diner you can be), but the pay is often for shit. Restaurant workers are often tremendously underpaid; in NYC, many of these workers are immigrants (both documented and undocumented) and people of color. From the Wage to Live site:

Despite the increase in profits, patronage, and meal costs, the wages of workers within the industry have stagnated. Thus, restaurant workers are now earning one-third of the average income within the private sector. In 2005, NYC restaurant workers earned $21,658 where non-restaurant workers in the private sector earned an average of $70,834. Over the last twenty years, the wages of restaurant workers have lagged by 17% behind the growth in wages that have been felt in all other sectors. Close to half of all restaurant workers (44%) live below the poverty level and 13% (roughly 22,425 workers) are still earning below minimum wage. The stagnation in restaurant wages has coincided with a gradual shift in worker demographics. In 1980, more than half of all restaurant workers were born in the United States. Today, more than two-thirds of all restaurant workers are foreign born.

Wage to Live is trying to change these conditions. From their mission statement:

Wage to Live has several goals: to raise the wages of a severely underpaid workforce, to prove that low wages are not the inevitable bi-product of capitalism but the result of societal acceptance and a prejudice against immigrant workers and people of color, to demonstrate that businesses can actually pay well while remaining profitable, to increase the public’s expectation of responsible business practices, and to prove that organizations such as Wage to Live can be self-sustainable and replicable in other cities.

To these ends, Wage to Live is waging (heh) a “socially responsible consumption campaign” in which restaurants that pay a living wage become certified members and are promoted by Wage to Live. In turn, folks who want to eat out responsibly can refer to Wage to Live’s website to see which restaurants are actually paying their workers a living wage. Or trying to – I appreciate that Wage to Live recognizes that not all restaurants can afford to pay every worker a living wage and plans to offer guidance to restaurants who want to try to and memberships to those who are making a good effort, paying no less than $10/hour to every worker.

Want to support Wage to Live? Check out their website, sign up for their mailing list, make a donation to the organization. But most importantly, check their website this spring to find and support restaurants that are paying their workers fairly.