Common Read Book Shines Spotlight on Employee Abuse in Food Industry

Each year the college community engages in the Common Read with the goal of providing members with an opportunity to gain a new perspective and create a sense of community through sharing opinions on different topics.

This year’s book selection was “Behind The Kitchen Door” written by Saru Jayaraman. In conjunction with the Humanities Institute, WCC hosted a discussion with the author on Feb. 22 in the Hanikin Theatre.

“Behind the Kitchen Door,” written in 2013, highlights the inequalities faced by members in the restaurant workforce in the United States, including wage disparity, poor employment benefits, unsafe working condition, and sexual harassment.

Jayaraman’s presentation was an overview of the issues in the restaurant industry explored in her book. It is the fastest growing sector in the United States, yet there aren’t any definitive changes that can be made to curb the discrepancies in the industry due to the National Restaurant Association.

The aforementioned association is a lobbying organization that proposes legislation and rules that affect the industry, yet they do little to benefit the workers in it. The standard that primarily affects workers is the Fair Labor Standards Act, passed by Congress in 1938, which allowed workers to be paid a fixed wage and make up their pay through tips. This law makes these workers the lowest paid employees because their earnings are sub-minimum wage in 43 states throughout the country.

As such, these food service workers struggle to support their families, live in poverty, and often times receive state aid. On top of that, 70 percent of tipped workers in the foodservice industry are women, who are working under dire conditions and suffer from sexual harassment as explored by Jarayman in her book.

The goal of Jayaraman’s presentation was to not only make attendees aware of these conditions but shed light on Organizations and movements that are geared towards making a change in the industry.

”If we presume that there will be persistent and growing poverty, what does that say about the long-term viability of your residents’ ability to consume and support the economy?” — Saru Jayaraman

Through the formation of One Fair Wage, Jarayman asserted that everyone, including consumers, can join restaurant owners and other advocates pushing for this agenda.

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