Backed Into CornerAugust 8 – Today, a new research report, “Backed into the Corner,” was released at a press conference at a Miami Beach Restaurant, TAPTAP, by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami (ROC-Miami) and the Miami-Dade Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces – a coalition of community, labor and faith-based advocates that support legislation that would mandate earned paid sick days for all Miami-Dade workers.

Over the past three decades as the restaurant industry has become the third largest private sector in the Miami-Dade region, employing 72,700 workers, a new research report shows how the lack of earned paid sick days combined with low wages forces Miami-Dade restaurant workers into a corner — they must choose between losing pay or going to work sick — most have no choice, they must work to survive.

“As industry growth in Miami-Dade County show no signs of letting up, it is all the more important that restaurants seek to protect the health of their workers and Miami-Dade residents, rather than endangering public health by placing workers in a position where they feel compelled to work sick to make ends meet.” said Jean Souffrant, Policy Coordinator for ROC-Miami.

Nearly 90% of restaurant workers nationwide have no access to earned paid sick days, and 64% have worked while sick, according to extensive surveying of thousands of restaurant workers by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, as well as the National Institute of Health’s National Health Interviews Survey.

Miami-Dade County closely mirrors national conditions. The report shows how in the nation’s largest industries, as wages decrease, so does access to earned paid sick days. The workers who need relief the most, have it the least. The Median wage for Miami-Dade restaurant workers making less than $10.00 an hour, and only 11.4 % have access to earned paid sick days, compared to other service and retail workers that make much higher wages and have much greater access to earned paid sick days.

The report also reveals the dangerous health hazards and risk of spreading illness that result when restaurant workers work while they are sick – creating consequences for themselves, their coworkers, the restaurant, and consumers alike.

Erica Sommer, a bartender in Miami, who worked three days with typhoid fever and a Backed - Typhoidfever of 103.7, knows what it is like to be really sick at work, but she was pressured to stay at work and endanger herself and others she said, “No one should have to work sick, particularly restaurant workers serving the public. It feels terrible and puts everyone in danger.”

Miami-Dade County Commission Barbara Jordan (District1) also spoke at the press conference on the need to pass County-wide earned paid sick day legislation saying, “When people are ill, they should remain home,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan, an advocate for workplace fairness. “When I look at the food services industry, I am especially troubled by the thought of employees who deal with meat, fruits and vegetables handling these foods while they are ill. This could result in the spread of viruses and other illnesses throughout Miami-Dade County.”

Key findings in the report include…

  • – Nine out of ten Miami restaurant workers have no access to earned paid sick days, and 47.6 % report having worked while sick. Three quarters of those that worked sick did so because they could not afford to take the day off.
  • – 74% of workers that worked sick cited they could not afford to take the day off without pay.
  • – One in five workers that worked while sick cited fear of retribution from their employers as a reason for not staying home. Over 20% of all workers surveyed were uncomfortable asking for time off when sick and another 15% did not think they could do so.
  • Many workers also struggled without a system for workers to find a replacement. One in ten workers that worked sick could not find a replacement and did not want to overburden their coworkers.

 Serving While Sick: Effect on Workers and Consumers.

  • – Among the 47.6% of workers surveyed that worked sick, 65.5% said their work productivity was negatively affected and two-fifths had longer illnesses as a consequence of working, increasing the negative consequences for themselves and their family.
  • – Over 40% of workers that worked sick reported coughing or sneezing while handling food. And over 10% reported infecting their co-workers.

Industry in Need of Reform for Diners and Workers Alike.

  • – More than one in ten workers reported pressure to cut corners in a way that could potentially harm customers, and a full 5% reported serving potentially contaminated food – expired, dirty or leftover food to diners.

Miami-Dade Restaurant Workers Need Access to Health Insurance.

  • – An overwhelming majority of Miami’s restaurant workers that were surveyed, 63.6%, said they had no access to health insurance.
  • – Only 8.8% of workers worked for employers that provided full or partial health insurance.
  • – Among workers surveyed with no health insurance, nearly half, 46.1% reported never having seen a doctor.
  • – Another 34% have gone to free or discount clinics, and another 16% depended on the emergency room for their healthcare needs.
  • – And overall, 24% of all workers surveyed visited an emergency room to obtain health coverage in the past year, and nearly one half were unable to pay adding to the strain to an already overstrained healthcare system.

“Scriptures recognize the totality of our community, the need for us to care for the well-being of our brothers and sisters. The notion of paid sick days exemplifies this outlook as paid sick days is a public health issue that affects all of us,” said Jeanette Smith, Executive Director, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice.

“We applaud ROC-Miami for releasing this timely and powerful report. It is unconscionable to fathom that in the 8th largest county in the country, workers making below the minimum wage have to go to work sick just to make ends meet because they have no earned paid sick days. ROC-Miami along with all of our coalition partners here today will fight to get legislation passed this year that mandates earned paid sick days to allow workers to stay home and take care of their own illness or that of a family member. In the coming months, we will educate, organize, and mobilize the public to take action to change the quality of life for all workers in Miami-Dade County who have no earned paid sick days” said Fred Frost, Director of Governmental Affairs, South Florida Jobs with Justice.

In addition to County-wide legislation that mandates earned paid sick days and ensuring that tipped workers be compensated at a rate commensurate with their total average daily wage, the report’s recommendations include support for legislation that ensures that the healthcare needs of Miami-Dade restaurant workers are met; support education for employers so they may better  understand how restaurant polices that push employees to work sick hurt the health of their workers and risk the success of their business; and support the collective action of restaurant workers to improve working conditions for all workers in the industry, including better wages  and access to proper  healthcare as well as other benefits.