Young Workers United: Occupational Hazards for Restaurant Workers in San Francisco
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Young Workers United: Occupational Hazards for Restaurant Workers in San Francisco By Alfonso Taylor, B.A. and Angela Pullen, M.P.H Abstract Occupational Health and Safety in Restaurants remains an overlooked subject. We aimed to assess health and safety in the restaurant industry by surveying restaurant workers for a restaurant guide that rates restaurants based on how well the workers are treated. We collected 55 surveys, 11 of which were from workers in non-guide worthy restaurants. Compared to the surveys from guide worthy restaurants, a higher percentage of non-guide worthy restaurant workers reported injury on the job, a lack of health and safety training, and unsafe working conditions. We concluded that restaurants that comply with labor laws and provide adequate support to their workers are also more likely to have working conditions that are safer and less likely to cause worker injury or illness. Background Occupational health and safety in the restaurant has been an understudied subject. When asked about health in a restaurant setting, many people may first consider the public health
effects of food sanitation before the concept of occupational health crosses their minds. Nevertheless, restaurant workers are exposed everyday to hazards that jeopardize their wellbeing. The restaurant industry accounts for 5% of all reported injuries and illnesses, the third highest proportion attributable to any one industry (BLS 2008a). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2008b), the most common reported injuries are musculoskeletal sprains and strains; cuts, lacerations, and punctures; and heat burns and scalds. A recent survey of 500 restaurant workers in New York (ROC‐NY 2005) found the following common unsafe working conditions: extremely high temperatures in the kitchen, non‐functioning fire extinguishers, lack of guards on cutting machines, and missing non‐ slip mats. Over half of the workers in the study reported having received no health and safety training from their employers. Therefore, policies to improve the working conditions in restaurant are highly needed. Young Workers United Young Workers United, or YWU, is a multiracial, bilingual worker center that organizes restaurant workers with the intent of improving the quality of their work environment. Through outreach, education, and litigation, the organization has achieved several successes. For example, they won a case against The Cheesecake Factory for not fully paying promised wages and for altering time cards. Furthermore, YWU helped pass local legislation that raised the minimum wage in the city of San Francisco. They also helped pass local legislation mandating paid sick leave for hourly workers. Due to this success, San Francisco is currently the only city in the United States that has passed such a statute. In 2010 YWU released Dining With Justice a restaurant guide that rates restaurants based on how the workers are being treated. This guidebook is intended to reward restaurants that follow labor laws and treat their workers with respect. Dining With Justice also serves to increase transparency in the restaurant industry so that San Francisco restaurant patrons can make more educated choices when they are deciding how and where to spend their money. In order to qualify for the restaurant guide, 50% of both the “back of the house” (chefs and kitchen workers) and the “front of the house” (servers and bussers) need to be interviewed. The restaurants must comply with both California and San Francisco labor laws, and fulfill enough criteria two receive at least 3 stars out of a five star scale. This five star scale consist of a “wage and hour” star, “job mobility” star, “job satisfaction” star, “job security” star, and “health and safety” star. The scope our project was focused on the “health and safety” star. Objectives: The objective of the summer project was to develop health and safety criteria that will be used to decide whether or not a restaurant receives a health and safety star in Dining With Justice. We aimed to develop these criteria by researching relevant Cal/OSHA standards, by conducting group and individual discussions with YWU restaurant worker members, by interviewing a sample of employers, and by surveying restaurant workers and analyzing the responses.
We also aimed to interview restaurant employers. We hope that the information from employers will better our understanding of the relationship between employers and employees in the restaurant workplace. Methods: We developed the health and safety section of the survey along with a YWU staff person who is also a restaurant employee. We developed a better understanding of the unsafe conditions that may exist at a restaurant worksite by researching Cal/OSHA standards and conducting both individual and group discussions with YWU members. From our research and discussions we created new health and safety questions to add to the existing survey. We selected restaurants to survey in a variety of ways: 1) We chose some restaurants that were already in the guide; 2) We selected some restaurants at which current YWU members currently or previously worked; 3) We identified restaurants using online searches; and 4) We selected some restaurants at random in various neighborhoods within San Francisco. We surveyed YWU members in the YWU office. We used www.yelp.com, a consumer based website where consumers can rate restaurants based on the food and service, as our primary method of choosing restaurants online. From these web-based searches, we were able to identify several restaurants that would be good candidates to survey for our guide, and we successfully interviewed over 50% of the staff at one of the restaurants we found on www.yelp.com. Regarding the restaurants we selected haphazardly, we chose those that appeared to have a relatively small number of employees. Results: The new, final health and safety section of the survey consisted of 11 questions, 8 of which were completely new and not asked in the survey from the previous year. Most of the questions contained several sub-component questions. The total number of questions in the entire survey amounted to 50. We were able to visit 8 restaurant worksites and conduct interviews with an employer, the employees, or both. 5 of the restaurants were from YWU’s existing guide. We surveyed an additional 12 restaurants, for a total of 17 restaurants. Out of these 17 dining establishments, 3 were ones that we found on our own, 1 was a restaurant at which a YWU worker had already commenced the survey process, and 8 restaurants were ones at which YWU members have either currently or previously worked. We interviewed 7 employers and 55 employees, 10 of which were employees who worked for restaurants that did not make the guide. Our data analysis shows that a higher percentage those who work for restaurants that did not qualify to be in the guide reported working in unsafe conditions that are more conducive to injury, and a higher percentage reported having injured themselves on the job (See Chart #1 below). The most frequently reported unsafe conditions by all employees interviewed were intense heat and lack of health and safety training (see Chart 2 below). Based on our survey results, people who had received health and safety training were less likely to have been injured in the past 6 months (see Chart #3.) Out of the 17 restaurants that were surveyed over the course of the summer internship, 7 are expected to enter into the Dining With Justice Guide. Only 5 of these restaurants have fulfilled all of the criteria, and the other two are expected to enter the guide once 50% of the
workers have been surveyed. Furthermore, 2 additional restaurants at which we have only had employer interviews may make the guide once the workers are surveyed. Chart 1 – non guide restaraunts vs. the entire group surveyed Common unsafe conditions in the restaurant workplace – Chart 2 Sometimes/always intense heat 35.5% No Health and Safety Training 34.8% Emergency exits sometimes/always locked 13.3% or blocked Sometimes or never guards on food slicers 11.1% Always wet/greasy floors 4.45% Chart 3 – Observed Relationship Between Health and Safety Training and Injury
Employer Interviews: We interviewed a total of 7 employers. When we asked employers about the type of health and safety training that they provided for their workers, 3 out of 7 employers stated that it is expected that employees should already know about worker health and safety before they start the job. One employer believed that serious hazards are minimal in his kitchen and that his restaurant did not have any real dangers. As a result, the type of training that he provided to his employees was brief. Two employers stated that they only hire individuals who have at least one year of actual restaurant experience. These employers state that the majority of the needed restaurant health and safety training would increase as workers experience in the kitchen increased, as a result they trained their employees more on how to handle food rather than how to work safely. Out of three employers that provided an extensive health and safety-training program, only one had a staff member who was responsible for training everyone on how to remain safe while working. This establishment also was the only one that held monthly meetings to address any health and safety hazards that staff members have identified. When we interviewed employers, we asked if there was a system in place for employees to report safety problems to management. None of the employers mentioned that they had an official system in place for workers to report safety issues and only 2 out of 7 of employers tracked and recorded safety problems reported to them by their employees. 5 out of 7 employers stated that their employees verbally report any safety issues that they have. One practice that was shared amongst all employers was that they all provided their workers with a first aid kit that had the materials to treat minor cuts and burns. Employers also stated that all of their employees were instructed to seek medical attention if a serious injury was to ever occur. 5 employers reported that in the past 12 months they have had an employee get
injured to the point of hospitalization. 2 employers reported that there have not been any severe injuries in their restaurants in the past 12 months; they have had workers with minor cuts and burns but nothing that required hospitalization. Employers all had a similar strategy for handling peek hours within their restaurants. They all stated that they have scheduled rushes and as a result they assign more workers during those hours. We were curious to know what would occur if an employee were to cancel his or her shift at the last minute. One employer stated that the rest of the workers would have to work harder to pick up the slack, thus increasing an employee’s chances of incurring a work related injury. We also asked employers if they had an IIPP in place. Many of them have not heard of it nor had an official program established at their restaurant. Only one employer mentioned that she had a written IIPP. Others had several components of the program but not all of them. One commonality that was noted when we interviewed restaurant employers was that they all believed that some form of injury, specifically cuts and burns, are expected to occur throughout one’s career as a restaurant chef. When comparing this response to the response from employees regarding their attitudes about restaurant injuries, workers also felt that some restaurant injuries are inevitable, particularly minor cuts and burns. Health and Safety Criteria Based on our survey results, we developed the following health and safety criteria. Restaurants must have all of the following seven dimensions listed in order to receive a health and safety star. Paid Sick Days o Paid sick days is part of San Francisco law. Employers are legally obligated to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work. Health Insurance o Health insurance is also a part of San Francisco law. Employers that have 20 employees or more must set aside a certain amount of money for health insurance per hour. Health and Safety Training o Many employees mentioned that the assumption that a restaurant worker has health and safety training before being hired is commonplace. However, health and safety training is required under California’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) standard. To be in compliance, restaurant employers need to train all of their workers, regardless of work experience, before a worker begins their employment at a given establishment. As our data showed, workers with health and safety training—even if it’s a refresher—are less likely to get injured. Safe Conditions o Safe conditions, such as non-slip mats, guards on food slicers, and proper ventilation are essential to health and safety in the workplace and indicate the employer’s commitment to safety. Not Getting Hurt Often
o Although it is difficult to avoid all cuts and burns in a kitchen setting, frequent injuries indicate a lack of safe working conditions. Survey results had to indicate a lack of frequent injuries, rather than no injuries at all. Providing Treatment for Injuries (first aid kit and workers compensation, etc…) o Survey results had to indicate that treatment for injury was always provided when needed. Not providing such medical care is a cal/OSHA violation and demonstrates the employer’s disregard for restaurant worker health and wellbeing. Being Comfortable Voicing Concerns to Management o Under Cal/OSHA’s IIPP standard, every workplace must implement system for employees to report health and safety concerns without fear of reprisal. An exclusively written system is not sufficient. Employees must feel comfortable reporting, and this is a demonstration of how open management is to improve workplace conditions. Based on these criteria, we expect 3 restaurants to receive a health and safety star. A fourth restaurant may be added once more workers are surveyed. Half Star Criteria After reviewing the survey responses, we noticed that some restaurants clearly had some well-established health and safety practices, but they did not meet all of the criteria to receive a health and safety star. To these restaurants, we have decided to give half of a health and safety star. Restaurants may receive half of a health and safety star if they lack comfort in voicing concerns with management, health and safety training, or both. We felt that complying with SF law, having safe conditions, not getting hurt, and employer provided treatment were absolutely essential in order for a restaurant to receive at least half of a health and safety star. One of the restaurants we have interviewed will receive a half health and safety star. Giving out half a star is our method of distinguishing among those employers who are almost and health and safety star level and those who have unambiguously poor health and safety conditions. The most common reason for a restaurant to not receive a health and safety star, or even half of a star was failure to comply with the San Francisco paid sick days law. 2 of the guide- worthy restaurants did not provide paid sick days to their employees. Challenges: One of the biggest challenges of our project was developing the new health and safety questions and expanding the health and safety section of the survey by 8 new questions. Working with the YWU staff person who was also a restaurant worker, who held the common belief that injuring oneself is inevitable, made our task of creating health and safety questions particularly arduous. She felt it was unfair for us to pose questions such as “do you experience production pressure to the point of injury?” because she felt that these conditions were ubiquitous in the restaurant industry. She felt that a restaurant that had unsafe conditions such as these should not be punished with the denial of a health and safety star. Another challenge of the internship was interviewing “back of the house” workers. This population was particularly difficult to access due to their diminished visibility. We eventually
resorted to simply entering the inaccessible kitchen area and requesting interviews directly from workers. Successes The focus on occupational health and safety in our OHIP project has greatly influenced YWU workers and members. YWU has demonstrated an increased awareness of the Cal/OSHA standards. They have also developed a better understanding of the importance of health and safety in the restaurant workplace, and that restaurant workers deserve safe conditions. They have come to realize the similarities between filing complaints through Cal/OSHA and filing complaints about other labor law violations with local and state agencies. Further Recommendations: More personnel: YWU is a small organization and does not have enough personnel to spend the time that is necessary to interview 50% of the restaurant workers in San Francisco who work for responsible employers. For this reason, we recommend that YWU hire additional people who can dedicate all their time to focusing on the Dining with Justice guide. With the additional help, the organization will be able to continue to conduct their organizing worker with San Francisco workers, improving the labor laws of San Francisco, and reaching out to new people through classroom activities. More personnel will also mean that YWU will be able to add restaurants to the guide without sacrificing energy needed for these higher priority campaigns. Publicize the YWU guide on well known websites: Many people who are currently living in San Francisco still do not know about the Dining with Justice guide. More needs to be done to increase awareness and influence where people choose to spend money. Making arrangements with frequently used consumer rated websites like yelp.com, so that people can see how a given restaurant treats its workers, would increase the amount of information to which consumers have access online. Publicize the restaurants that do not treat their workers well: Since the possibility of interviewing every restaurant in the San Francisco is low, people would benefit if they also knew which restaurants to avoid. If YWU also published, in Dining with Justice, a list of all the restaurants about which they have filed a complaint through the labor department, this information would give people a sense of which restaurants have been problematic for their workers. Project Givebacks: For our giveback, we have made informational handouts about how and when to file a Cal/OSHA complaint and about Healthy San Francisco. In the Cal/OSHA handout, we explain what steps to take to file a complaint with OSHA. In the Healthy San Francisco handout, we explain how the law works and we inform employers how to sign up to provide health insurance to their employees.
Acknowledgements This work was supported by the members and workers of Young Workers United, Diana Bush and Pam Tau Lee at the Labor and Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley, the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, and San Francisco restaurant owners, managers and employees. References 1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2008a. Table 4. Number of cases and incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses for industries with 100,000 or more cases, 2008. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/osh.t04.htm Accessed June 21, 2010. 2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2008b. Table R5. Incidence rates for nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work per 10,000 full‐time workers by industry and selected natures of injury or illness, 2008. www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/case/ostb2087.pdf. Accessed June 14, 2010. 3. ROC‐NY. 2005. Behind the Kitchen Door: Pervasive Inequality in New York City's Thriving Restaurant Industry. New York: New York City Restaurant Industry Coalition; January.
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