WASHINGTON (PAI) -- It was recently Restaurant Week in Washington, D.C., and the National Consumers League's members hit the streets, too. But their leaflets weren't about appetizing food available at set prices. They were about the unappetizing wages and working conditions that restaurant workers face.
"Eating out is a special treat for many consumers, but what about workers?" NCL asked consumers. The leaflets' information turned some consumers' stomachs:
* 88% of more than 4,300 restaurant workers surveyed by the union-backed Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) report not having paid sick days so they often come to work sick to earn a paycheck. That means sick employees who should be at home resting are handling your food.
* When customers leave a tip on the credit card receipt, servers don't always get the full tip. It may go to pay part of the credit card fee or the restaurant may keep part.
* Restaurant servers don't receive the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour - they get only $2.13, the federal "tipped minimum wage." That wage has been the same for 21 years. Tips are supposed to close the gap between the two minimum wages.
* 90% of surveyed restaurant workers - servers, bartenders, bussers - receive no health insurance through their employers.
When you eat out, you are subsidizing the restaurant industry's low wages. The median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90 an hour, just below the poverty line for a family of three.
"Pretty shocking, isn't it? These numbers may make dining out a little less appetizing," NCL says. But consumers have measures they can undertake to help the underpaid restaurant workers:
*Ask if your favorite restaurants allow their staffers to earn sick leave. 63% of surveyed restaurant workers said that at some point during the past year, they cooked or served food while they were sick. "This is a public safety issue as much as it is a workers' rights one," NCL says.
*Pay your tip in cash so it will all go to your server.
*Ask your favorite restaurants if they provide health insurance for workers.
*Urge your favorite restaurants to join with more than 50 other restaurant owners in eight cities, including New York and Philadelphia, that partnered with ROC to promote improved wages and working conditions for employees who cook, prepare and serve food.
ROC United, which represents restaurant workers, wants restaurant owners to become members of the Restaurant Industry Roundtable to support higher wages for tipped and non-tipped workers, to provide sick leave and health insurance for all employees, and to provide opportunities to move up the ladder for all workers.
And a bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., would raise the federal minimum wage for tipped employees for the first time in decades.
"Remember, you can always cast your 'vote' for restaurant workers with your wallet: Don't patronize restaurants that don't treat their workers fairly-and be sure to tell them why you're taking your patronage to places that do!" NCL concludes.
Photo: ROC United, Chicago.