Large pay gaps persist between white and of-color food service workers in the Bay Area
With the Bureau of Labor Statistics recording that more than 10 million people perform food service functions in America, trends within this industry affect many communities. And, as is often the case, general concerns within the industry particularly affect Black and Brown communities.
In fact, a recent report for Northern California’s KQED News documented a startling pay gap between white and Black or Brown restaurant workers. Sam Harnett reported that fine dining restaurant practices reflect several trends. Among them, waiters and hosts who directly interact with customers tend to be white. However, members of the kitchen staff are often Black and Brown people. When traveling abroad, similar patterns exist when observing tour guides and front-facing hotel staff in contrast with the oft-hidden people who perform various types of manual labor.
KQED noted this front-facing versus in-the-back status difference contributes to a race-wage gap. The Bay Area is noted for having one of the worst gaps in America. “There is a $5.50 wage gap between white [restaurant] workers and workers of color in the Bay Area,” Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC)–an advocacy group that advances living wages and improved life quality for people in food service–told the publication.
“That [gap] is larger than Houston, Texas’s race-wage gap in the restaurant industry. It’s larger than Seattle’s race-wage gap. It’s larger than every other region in the United States,” she said.
The story does include a positive anecdote about a Black man named Cory Woods, with three decades worth of restaurant experience. Woods said ROC’s efforts and an open-minded employer helped him. A little better than one year ago, Woods washed dishes at the fine casual dining restaurant where he works. The restaurant owner offered Woods a transition to the front of the restaurant. That transition, coupled with training to tend bar, wait tables and interact with wealthy white customers, led to better pay.
“I come here and I get an $11 pay increase from $14 an hour to $25 an hour,” Woods said. “So yes, front of the house does have its benefits.”
As workers in America continue calls for jobs that provide humane wages and treatment for all, initiatives like ROC’s can be especially helpful for pay parity in the service sector. When people are offered more responsibilities, training, status and pay at work, they often rise to the occasion.
“I’m proud to say this day that I am considered a success story,” Woods said. “I have two vehicles, I am getting ready to purchase a home. I never thought I’d be the owner of a life insurance policy.”