Why "Back of the House" Often Means "Invisible"
Wednesday, we're looking at some of the wage and labor concerns "back of the house" workers in local restaurants are dealing with that are often invisible to the public. Our guests include Washington City Paper food writer Tim Carman, George Washington University Law professor Michael Selmi, and Jose Oliva, who is the National Policy Coordinator at Restaurant Opportunities Center.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center's origin is grounded in tragedy. The first ROC chapter was founded in New York City after 9/11 by some of the workers at Windows on the World to help themselves and their colleagues find jobs, training and support after the attack on the World Trade Center. A D.C. chapter started up in September 2009, and there are now chapters in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Miami and several other cities.
ROC co-founder Fekkak Mamdouh, who was headwaiter at Windows on the World, is a Moroccan immigrant who has become one of the most active advocates of fair wages and benefits for restaurant workers. Mamdouh appeared on PBS's Tavis Smiley Show in 2008, pointing out that immigrants, especially undocumented workers, too often bear the brunt of unfair treatment. He argued that immigrants not only suffer from receiving sub-minimum wage-level pay, but they are often passed over for internal promotions, leading to a huge income disparity between the back-of-house and front-of-house staff. In 2008, the Pew Research Center reported that unauthorized immigrants made up 5.4% of the U.S. workforce - many of which hold back-of-house restaurant jobs.