Workforce

Restaurant workers aren't thrilled about California's fast-food wage hike, either

New research shows that less than half expect a $20-an-hour pay floor to actually boost income.
New research contradicts the SEIU's contention that restaurant workers feel unheard. | Photo: Shutterstock

Restaurant workers have less than rosy expectations about what will happen in California after the minimum wage for most fast-food colleagues in the state jumps to $20 an hour on April 1.

Not even a majority (41%) of the industry’s labor force foresees an increase in earnings for restaurant workers employed there, according to new research from the employer-friendly non-profit group Center for Union Facts. Although the minimum wage will rise only for employees of California fast-food restaurants with at least 59 sister units nationwide, the 25% hike has been expected to drive up the pay all restaurants in the state will need to offer to draw applicants.

The research, based on a nationwide canvass of 1,000 current or recent restaurant employees over age 18, also shows that 46% of respondents expect the hours of California workers to be cut. Forty percent anticipate layoffs, and nearly the same proportion (38%) predicts that hiring will slacken.

The study also provided insight into restaurant employees’ view of tipping, a controversial topic at the moment among consumers. According to the survey, more than half the respondents took their current restaurant job because it afforded an opportunity to earn tips.

Only flexible scheduling was more of a draw, with 52% citing that benefit as the reason they were drawn to restaurant work.

The findings about tipping come to light as labor advocates like One Fair Wage are blasting servers’ reliance on gratuities as an abomination that promotes sexual harassment and general mistreatment. According to those assertions, the workers would lose tips if they refused to tolerate the misbehavior of customers.

The group is trying to end that reliance in at least five states by pushing for the elimination of the tip credit, an employer concession that allows a restaurant to count tips as a portion of server and bartenders’ wages.

A common assertion by One Fair Wage’s parent group, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was also contradicted by the findings. The SEIU is the backer of the drive to organize Starbucks. It was also the force behind California’s adoption of a $20 fast-food wage.

The union has maintained that employees of chains like Starbucks need representation because they have no say on matters that directly affect their livelihoods and working conditions. As some baristas put it when they began to organize, they had no seat at the table and no voice on corporate matters.

Yet the research conducted for the Center for Union Facts  revealed a different mindset among the respondents. Asked if they feel “my concerns are heard,” 78% of the participants said yes.

They were also asked if they enjoyed working in restaurants. About 92% said yes.

“Restaurant employees don’t want what the SEIU is selling,” said Michael Saltsman, the Berman & Co. partner who serves as executive director of the Center. “The union narrative of abusive workplaces that can only be saved by a union contract doesn’t line up with reality.”

The Center is one of several advocacy organizations that are run by Berman & Co., a company known for its bare-knuckled approach to lobbying.

The research was conducted for the Center by an outside company called Big Village.

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