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February 03, 2005

Restaurants: A Criminal Industry

There are 165,000 workers in the restaurant industry in New York City. The majority of them work in businesses engaged in criminal activity-- much of that criminal activity directed as theft against the employees themselves.

That's the import of a new study created by a wide-ranging coalition of researchers, called Behind the Kitchen Door: Pervasive Inequality in New York City's Thriving Restaurant Industry.

In a combination of surveys and in-depth interviews with both workers and employers, the study found that 13% of restaurant workers - or an estimated 21,000 workers - are not paid the minimum wage, and 59% of workers - 97,350 workers - have overtime pay owed them stolen by their employers.

If surveys showed that almost 100,000 middle class people in one city were routinely being robbed of thousands of dollars each year, the tough-on-crime advocates would be calling for "zero tolerance" incarceration of the criminals.

But since it's businessmen stealing from their employees, most people just look the other way.

Even progressives mostly don't really see this as "real crime." But for the workers who are victim of these crimes, the result is suffering for their them and their families, as the report documents:

I earn about $550 for a 72-hour week. I do not have health insurance but I have injured myself a number of times – mostly cuts and burns which are common in my work. When I cut or burn myself, I usually treat it myself...The restaurant where I work now does not give sick days to any workers and the boss usually doesn’t like for people to take a day off – in fact, he fires people who take time off...My boss often bullies and threatens me but I can’t do or say anything about it because he says he can report me to the police or to the immigration authorities. This happens to all of us immigrant workers.- Dan

I don’t have health insurance and I don’t get sick days. If I get sick, I take painkillers and continue working. I can’t afford medical bills nor can I afford to miss work so I never go to the doctor. I’ve been injured at work before but I had to just keep working. Once, I was washing dishes when I cut myself on a piece of broken glass. Because the water was hot, the bleeding just wouldn’t stop. It was so busy that day and I didn’t want to be sent home without pay so I kept on working. - George

Vulnerable workers are threatened and bullied, so that their paychecks can be looted and they can be paid less than legally required.

This should be considered criminal activity and theft, like any other crime in our society.

Posted by Nathan at February 3, 2005 07:48 AM