Just Dining Guide: A Guide to Restaurant Employment Standards in Madison

WRC and ICWJ Releases Phone App of Updated Guide

On December 11 the Workers Rights’ Center (WRC) and the Interfaith Coalition (ICWJ) will release the 3rd Edition of Madison’s only dining guide of employment standards. This year the guide is available as a phone app and a brochure in English and Spanish.  The Guide rates 175 restaurants in Central Madison on seven quantitative criteria of wages and benefits, using information primarily gathered from employee and employer surveys.  The original Guide has a large section providing information about the restaurant industry and can be viewed on either organization’s website.

Since its initial release, the guide has prompted diners to think and talk about the workers behind their meals and gatherings at local restaurants and prompted some restaurant owners to increase wages and benefits for their workers. The phone app with up-to-date information will make it easier for consumers to learn about the workers behind the food they enjoy in local restaurants and motivate them to support employers who are providing good jobs in our community.       “During this season of celebrations and festive meals I hope the updated guide will help more folks make the            commitment to consider workers when making decisions about where to dine out,” said ICWJ Director, Rabbi        Renee Bauer. Noting that 15% of the restaurants in the guide will receive certificates to post at their     establishments because they have earned 5 or more stars, Rabbi Bauer said, “We are lucky to have exemplary        employers in our city and must support them.”

The guide is part of a growing national conversation about the treatment of workers in the service sector.  As Rabbi Bauer says, “Over the last year we have, numerous times, stood on strike lines in solidarity with fast food workers demanding higher wages and the right to form a union. Workers are saying enough is enough to receiving poverty wages without a voice in the workplace. This guide is another vehicle to support worker empowerment.”

Restaurants are the largest private sector employer in the U.S. and in Wisconsin. Restaurants are also ranked third in the nation in creating the most new jobs, predicted to add more than a million by 2023, to nearly one-tenth of the nation’s workforce.  However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 6 of the 10 worst-paying jobs in the U.S. are in restaurants. In the Workers’ Rights Center’s 12 years of existence, the highest level of labor violations they have seen is in the restaurant industry.

These statistics, combined with the some of the data in the Guide, are cause for concern, according to Patrick Hickey the director of WRC.  “Every day we see workers who can’t live on the starting wages being offered at too many restaurants. We hope this guide will give these workers much needed information to negotiate for better wages,” say Hickey.

The Guide not only provides information about wages but also about benefits including access to affordable health insurance. The face of health care availability will change in the coming year because of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Starting in 2015 larger employers will be required to provide insurance to all workers who work at least 30 hours a week. “This important worker-supporting policy has led to a new and disturbing trend of employers cutting workers hours so they don’t meet the 30 hour a week requirement,” says Hickey. “We must make sure that we do not support employers who are going down this road at the expense of workers. We can also support workers by informing the smaller businesses that the ACA gives sizable tax incentives to smaller employers for insuring their workers.”

The app and full guide will be available on WRC and ICWJ’s websites, www.wrcmadison.org or www.workerjustice.org.  Hard copy pamphlets of the rated restaurants will be available around town or from the WRC and ICWJ offices.