Today, food service is one sector of the economy that is expanding and, as Taix said, “These jobs can’t be exported. They are inherently local jobs,” but they need to be good jobs.
In a region already marked by extreme income inequality–social justice and fairness aside–increased availability of poverty-level wages will hardly fuel an economic recovery while the working poor who must supplement earnings with public assistance or seek medical attention at emergency rooms increase the costs borne by better-off taxpayers.
Realistically, there are limits. McDonald’s profits increased during the recession, but most restaurants, Michaud and Taix agreed, are a labor of love. If you treat your workers right, you can still make a profit, but if money were the primary objective, Taix, for one, says he would do a whole lot better flipping the real estate and getting out. But he’s not going away.
Neither is ROC United or its affiliates in seven other cities besides LA. Current campaigns include a call for an increase in the minimum wage and protection for the workers’ right to unionize. Specific recommendations coming from the Los Angeles office include expansion of bus service, particularly at night, along with lower fares; extension of the city’s Living Wage Ordinance to restaurants that contract with the City, are tenants on public land, or receive any public monies or community redevelopment funds.
The group, which can be reached at welcomes more input from owners as well as workers, said Mariana Huerta, ROC-LA co-coordinator, so that research, much of it provided now by UCLA’s Center for the Study of Urban Poverty, can continue along with efforts “to incentivize the high road to profitability.”
“We all have daily interaction with this industry,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, “but there are people we see and people we don’t see.”
Don’t we all kind of already know that the people behind the kitchen door, hidden from view, don’t fare well?
“We must work together,” said Saenz, “to change what we have come to accept.”