Serving While Sick

High Risks & Low Benefits for the Nation’s Restaurant Workforce, and Their Impact on the Consumer

by The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United

With over 10 million workers, the restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of the United States economy, even during the current economic crisis. However, most workers in this industry work in restaurants that put them at high risk of injury and illness, and provide them with little or no benefits to cope with these challenges. These conditions increase the likelihood of workers committing dangerous practices that place the health of the dining public at risk.

This report is drawn from analysis of 4323 surveys of restaurant workers nationwide – the largest national survey sample of restaurant workers ever conducted– as well as 240 employer interviews and 240 worker interviews, on their wages, working conditions, and access to benefits. It is also based on 500 additional surveys and 20 additional employer interviews on health insurance needs in the industry. In all of these surveys and interviews, restaurant workers across the country reported very high rates of injury and illness and very low rates of benefits to cope with these symptoms. This report will highlight the increased risk factors faced by restaurant workers and their low access to benefits. It will also outline restaurant workers’ and employers’ particular needs with regard to health insurance. Our findings have important implications not only for workers, but also for employers, taxpayers, policy-makers, and dining consumers.

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