The fight for paid time off could benefit restaurant workers more than most

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With a flurry of congressional activity that bodes both good and bad for the future of paid medical and family leave as global business leaders call on elected officials to enact mandatory paid leave laws, the fate of the unprotected worker a relatively rare position in the headlines this week. While high-level debates and calls to action don’t necessarily set the hospitality industry apart, this week a new report highlighted metrics that strongly suggest restaurant workers may experience the worst conditions in the world. overall work of anyone in America. Among the reasons: the vast majority of hourly employees with or without tips work without the right to family or medical leave.

“When the pandemic hit more than 30 million workers in this country had zero days of paid sick leave. Four in five did not have paid family leave. This is an issue that has disproportionately affected… service workers, ”said Dawn Hucklebridge, Director of Paid leave for all, during United Dining Opportunity Center press conference on Wednesday to announce the results of a report on the state of the restorer in 2020.

“Restaurant workers have the highest rates of injury and illness compared to the private sector,” added Marcy Gelb, of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “They work in hot kitchens, work with sharp objects and lift and carry heavy objects for hours. They cannot afford time off or they risk losing their jobs.

On Tuesday, members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee introduced a bill that would convert federal workers’ 12 weeks of unpaid family leave into paid leave. Most federal employees currently accumulate sick leave and paid annual leave. The bill overcame vigorous objections from members of the Republican committee. It’s one of at least three gaining traction in Congress, including the Family Economy Building Act, which must be considered by the House Ways and Means Committee.

On Wednesday, however, Senate Republicans stalled debate on Democrats’ infrastructure bill, raising concerns about the passage of The plan of American families, another Biden-backed package – with specific action plans for mandatory paid time off – Congress should take care of next.

Then on Thursday, business tycoons like Belinda French Gates and Airbnb bosses Patagonia and Levi Strauss & Co.

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joined a campaign sponsored by the National Partnership for Women and Families to publicly shame the United States as the only industrialized country in the world without a universal policy of paid medical and family leave.

“More than 10 million people in the United States cite caregiving as the reason they stopped working during the pandemic,” said Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and founder of Pivotal Ventures. “Our country’s health care delivery system is failing and this has taken a toll on families, our economy and our society. No one should have to choose between looking after their family and their salary. ”

Only one in five American workers in the private sector have access to paid family leave, writes New Jersey Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell in a July 20 editorial. Among lower and middle class workers, that number drops to one in seventeen.

“We are at a pivotal moment in our national life. The pandemic has extinguished at least 600,000 American lives. Our frontline workers have borne perhaps the heaviest cost in keeping the country alive. The price they pay and have paid is incalculable. Their sacrifices have made it clear that we can no longer ignore our workers and must adopt a federal paid vacation program, ”he wrote.

Restaurant workers, many of whom worked on-site for much or all of the pandemic, are twice as likely as the general workforce to live in poverty, according to the report.

“Most of the essential workers were office workers, and these workers were crammed into tight quarters with little social distancing,” says report researcher Zoie Caras. “The majority of office workers are of color, which exacerbates the pandemic problems (in these communities). ”

Among the findings of the report, which surveyed 1,000 restaurant workers across the country:

  • The average restaurant employee earns $ 12.82 an hour. This compares to an average wage of $ 25.72 for the overall workforce and a national living wage of $ 31.90.
  • About 17% of tip workers and office workers live in poverty. This is almost three times the overall headcount rate. They get access to food stamps and Medicaid almost twice as fast. Forty percent of restaurant workers live below double the poverty line.
  • More than 5.5 million restaurant workers lost their jobs in 2020. In April of the same year, the unemployment rate in restaurants peaked at 42%. The private sector as a whole recorded a rate of 16%.

The federal requirement for companies to provide emergency paid sick leave or extended family leave for COVID-related reasons expired late last year. A provision adopted last March extended a tax credit companies with less than 500 employees for having voluntarily offered up to 80 hours of paid leave to workers caring for sick parents or children forced to return from school. This credit ends on September 30, 2021.

The National Restaurant Association did not return a request for comment late Friday afternoon, but notes in a brief that a challenge that could arise during the Biden administration is the revision or extension of the Family and medical leave law, which entitles certain employees to unpaid leave for specific health care contingencies.


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