November 4, 2015
Seattle is in the midst of a restaurant boom. In the last 10 years, the number of full-service restaurants has grown by 27 percent. There are now approximately 5,400 fast-food, casual, and full-service eateries in the city, employing more than 86,000 workers.
But not all workers are benefiting from this growth. Despite the passage of laws for paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage, Seattle restaurant workers still struggle to make ends meet, and many don’t know their rights: 42.7 percent live below the poverty line, while 62.6 percent aren’t aware that paid sick and safe time exists.
That’s according to a new report, “Behind the Kitchen Door: The Highs and Lows of Seattle’s Booming Restaurant Economy,” published last week by Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), a national advocacy organization for restaurant workers. The report is the first comprehensive look at workplace issues in Seattle restaurants.
Seattle has “done great things for workers,” says Saru Jayaraman, ROC’s executive director. “That being said, there are tremendous challenges.”
The biggest problems found—and what will surely be the next wave of conversations about restaurant work—are the severe inequities faced by people of color, who make up just over half of the city’s 86,000 restaurant workers. Those within the industry are acutely aware that race and gender inequality is rampant, but it’s never been quantified explicitly and shared publicly—until now.