Workplace Injuries in Restaurants
Degreaser spilled on the kitchen worker’s sock but he just kept working until a co-worker noticed the man was limping and asked what was wrong. Chemicals had eaten away skin and flesh right down to exposed bone.
Workplace injuries like this are not uncommon according to the report, “Behind the Kitchen Door: Inequality and Opportunity in Los Angeles, the Nation’s Largest Restaurant Industry,” which was presented on Valentine’s Day–the busiest day of the year for dining out–by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles (ROC-LA), Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, and the Los Angeles Restaurant Industry Coalition. Coming up with figures based on almost 600 interviews, including more than 30 with employers, the report states that 89.8% of restaurant workers do not receive employer-based health insurance while 31.9% were injured by toxic chemicals and more than 40% have been cut or burned on the job.
Michaud, now the chef and owner of his own Silverlake restaurant (fittingly called “Local” due to his commitment to locally grown foods), tracked down a company that makes a degreaser that doesn’t burn skin. As he told 150 people in attendance at the Restaurant Industry Summit Monday morning for the official release of the ROC-LA report, an owner can improve the quality of life of employees “with a little extra work, a little extra thought.”
While workers were the focus, Michaud was among the featured speakers and the gathering was held in Echo Park at Taix Restaurant, family-owned and operated for three generations since 1927, to highlight model practices and offer examples of successful restaurants that take the “high road.”
That means paying decent wages, providing workplace benefits, creating opportunities for advancement, and complying with labor, employment, health and safety regulations and standards in an industry that today employs 276,100 Los Angeles workers–one in every ten of the region’s total employed workforce, and pays so little that 71% of fulltime workers earn annual wages that keep a family of three below the federally recognized poverty line.
A comment last week on an LA Times blog argued that “working in a restaurant is not supposed to provide a ‘living wage’. It’s a job that teenagers and students use to get started in life.” Not so according to ROC-LA co-coordinator Cathy Dang who reported that nationwide, people tend to stay in the industry for a lifetime. The workforce only seems transient because most restaurant workers never receive a promotion or even a modest raise after years of service and so the norm is to move from job to job seeking promotion or better working conditions.