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A Third of Oakland’s Restaurant Workers Can’t Afford to Buy Food

More than half ate free meals at work because their food budgets were too stretched at home.

Oakland has become a restaurant boomtown, with more than 200 new restaurants debuting there in the past three years alone. But while the city is praised for its revived dining culture by the likes of the New York Times, many of the workers who power that culture are going hungry. According to the Chron, 36 percent of Oakland workers don’t make enough money to ensure a regular supply of food for themselves and their families, and 50 percent eat free meals at work to help save money for food at home.

The shocking statistics are sourced from a study conducted by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which interviewed 500 Oakland restaurant workers between August 2013 and July 2014. Averaging just 30 hours of work per week, many of the workers said they’d like to get more hours, but they aren’t available.

Oaklanders make a minimum of $9 per hour, a figure that was above-average until California upped its minimum wage from $8 to $9 across the board earlier this year. However, that still notches below San Francisco’s minimum wage of $10.74 per hour (which is one of the nation’s highest). Ballot measure FF, set to be voted on next month, would increase the Oakland minimum wage to $12.25 per hour beginning in March, a 36 percent jump that many businesses have argued will create too much economic strain for them.

As in San Francisco, much of Oakland restaurateurs’ anxiety likely centers around the tip credit, which is currently banned in the state. Restaurateurs in San Francisco have argued that if a similar measure to bump SF’s minimum wage to $15 per hour passes without a loophole to knock the tip credit down to the state minimum of $9, it will only amplify the disparities between front-of-house staff (who could make as much as $30-45/hour with the increased minimum wage, plus tips) and the kitchen (which would be stuck at the $15 minimum wage, with the funds for their raises redirected to paying increased wages for the front-of-house). Considering that kitchen workers are more likely to be immigrants, people of color, and parents than their front-of-house counterparts, the law may increase some of the pay disparities for the working poor that it’s intended to address, at least as far as restaurants are concerned. At least in San Francisco, politicians have found that argument specious, with one supervisor saying the restaurant industry is “crying wolf” about the increased costs. For more on how the minimum wage law could impact Oakland restaurants and restaurant workers, this extensive Edible East Bay article is well worth a read.

A Third of Oakland’s Restaurant Workers Can’t Afford to Buy Food