KCRW’s Which Way L.A.? features an in-depth discussion on the treatment of local restaurant labor, offering views from two opposing sides, that of restaurant worker advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United and a dissenting opinion from Jot Condie, CEO of the California Restaurant Association. In February of 2011, R.O.C.U. dropped a scathing report accusing L.A. restaurant owners of a long list of labor abuses, including but not limited to withholding insurance, overtime, and sick leave, the occasional wage theft, and rampant sexism, racism, and age discrimination.
In KCRW’s piece, the claims of such a dismal restaurant industry labor scene are backed up by local waiter Eric Padilla, who like just about everybody else on the planet, feels his job has “horrible hours” and that he’s “overworked [and] underpaid.” Unlike everybody else on the planet, he also hates being paid “under the table” so his employers can avoid the tax man.
Padilla’s pleas for legitimacy are themselves buoyed by a spokesperson for R.O.C.U. who points out, and won’t get much argument here, that Latinos and “people of color” are more frequently shut out of front-of-the-house operations, where the money is at, relegated to the kitchen despite many worker’s considerable experience and knowledge of food and the workings of the industry.
Prior to simmering the beef, the radio piece passes the mic to one bright spot out there, Good Girl Dinette owner Diep Tran, one of “thirteen or fourteen” owners working with R.O.C.U. to benefit laborers. Tran, who pays her workers a starting salary of eleven dollars an hour, details her struggle to “run an affordable restaurant, pay my workers well, and keep my lights on,” admitting it’s a tremendous challenge to do this when you’ve got creditors to pay off, among so many other costs.
But C.R.A. president and CEO Jot Condie argues against the shocking claims of R.O.C.U. He admits that abuses do occur, but “take[s] issue with what they’re saying,” insisting the abuses are “not widespread.” Condi stresses that California, as a state, has “one of the most protective relative to labor laws” in the country and again claims the abuses “are not as widespread as R.O.C. insists.”
Ultimately, Condi points out that anyone paying under the table, paying overtime, not giving breaks to employees, practicing discrimination are breaking federal and state laws and that his organization and federal labors inspectors do “a lot of enforcement work” for both the restaurant industry and other places where workers may or may not be treated unfairly. He also disputes R.O.C.U.’s statistics, revealing his own figures and anecdotes to label the restaurant industry, “one of the few industries that afford an opportunity to own a business and be successful without some formalized degree or certification,” admitting “we take pride in that.”