October 25, 2016

Tim Rusch, 917-399-0236,
Dallas Donnell, 215-870-7076,

NEW REPORT: Tipped restaurant workers in Boston more likely to experience sexual harassment, wage theft

ROC Boston releases most comprehensive research analysis ever conducted of Boston restaurant industry; few benefits, low wages, and poor workplace conditions abound across region

Behind the Kitchen Door: The State of Working Conditions in Boston’s Growing Restaurant Industry is available HERE

Boston, MA— Today, Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of Boston releases findings from one of the largest studies to date on Boston’s restaurant workforce. Behind the Kitchen Door: The Promise and Denial of Boston’s Growing Restaurant Industry draws on 500 worker surveys, 21 structured interviews with restaurant workers, and 20 structured interviews with employers in Greater Boston, along with other industry and government data, to offer the most comprehensive analysis to date of working conditions in the Boston Area restaurant industry. This research demonstrates that the majority of Boston Area restaurant industry jobs are low-road jobs, defined by low wages, few benefits, and dangerous and often unlawful workplace conditions.

In the wake of recent information about Presidential Candidate Donald Trump’s claims about sexually assaulting women, one of the most striking findings of this report is the fact that tipped restaurant workers are forced to tolerate much higher levels of sexual harassment than other workers due to a two-tiered wage system that makes them dependent on tolerating inappropriate customer behavior to earn their income in tips. 68% of tipped workers in Boston are women surviving on the paltry Massachusetts minimum wage for tipped workers of $3.35 an hour; any income beyond that is based on the largesse and whims of customers.

However, the report also reveals that there are a minority of restaurants that are succeeding by investing in their workforce, offering benefits, opportunities for advancement, and livable wages. The report captures a range of problems with restaurant working conditions related to the availability of wages and benefits, workplace violations, and job-specific training opportunities. In particular, Boston-area workers who depend on tips for their wages are more likely to experience sexual harassment and wage theft, including the misappropriation of tips and service charges, overtime, and off-the-clock violations.

ROC United Co-Founder and Co-Director, Saru Jayaraman said, “Boston is home to a resilient and growing restaurant industry. Over the last decade, the industry has grown to 8.5% of the local economy, contributing to the region’s reputation as a tourism, hospitality, and entertainment destination, and generating over $9.8 billion in revenue and $717 million in sales tax for the state and local economy.” She continues, “However, the benefits of this growth have not been equally shared. Many restaurant jobs in the Boston area remain low-road jobs characterized by few benefits, low wages, and poor workplace conditions. In particular, tipped restaurant workers, who are in large majority women, are having to tolerate surprisingly high levels of sexual harassment in order to feed their families on tips. We hope this report will be instrumental in guiding more employers toward the High Road of sustainability, and legislators toward One Fair Wage, raising the wage for all workers, and eliminating the lower wage for tipped workers.”

Key findings include:

  • Thirty-five percent of Boston’s tipped workers report they have been sexually harassed by customers, over twice as many as other workers in our survey. Tipped workers were also more likely to experience overtime violations and work off the clock without pay than restaurant workers overall.
  • Thirty-six percent of restaurant workers reported earning wages below the lower-living-standard wage – the wage required for a full-time, full-year worker to reach a lower living standard for a family of three. A majority do not have access to paid sick days and, as a result, have prepared or served food while sick. Twenty-two percent of restaurant workers do not have any form of health insurance coverage.
  • Nearly half of workers that worked over 40 hours a week in the past 12 months reported being paid less than the legally mandated overtime rate, in violation of state and federal laws. Thirty-eight percent of restaurant workers worked off the clock without pay in the last 12 months, and nearly six in ten workers say they worked 8 hours without a paid break in the last 12 months.
  • According to this report’s findings, most restaurant workers do not receive regular raises, did not move up in position from their last restaurant job to their current job, and do not receive the on-going training they need to advance in position in the restaurant industry.
  • Forty-one percent of restaurant workers reported that it gets unsafely hot in the kitchen, twenty-eight said there are fire hazards in their restaurant, and over a third reported their kitchen does not have mats on the floor to prevent slipping. As a result, cuts, burns, falls, and chronic pain are widespread amongst Boston’s restaurant industry workforce.
  • Workers of color disproportionately occupy lower-level positions and work in lower-level segments on the industry, while white workers disproportionately occupy higher-paying ‘Front-of-the-House’ fine dining positions, the only livable wage jobs in the industry.

Key policy recommendations include:

  • Raise the minimum wage for all workers, and eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers.
  • Increase awareness and understanding of sick leave and other labor laws through creating partnerships with community groups that train workers so that they know their rights and can organize to access them.
  • Address racial segregation in the restaurant industry through a combination of policies and programs that increase worker training and certification in livable wage job skills, push and train employers to desegregate their restaurants, and engage consumers in supporting restaurants that desegregate
  • Mandate transparent, formalized hiring, promotion, and training processes that make a clear and fair ladder for workers to advance to higher-wage positions.
  • Ensure workers have a voice in ownership and control over gratuities and service charges left on their behalf.

Find the full report HERE.


Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News) ROC United has grown close to 18,000 worker-members across over 30 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.