Restaurants and hospitality businesses employ nearly 11 million workers nationally, one of the largest industries in the country, and are growing at a feverish pace in Oakland.
However, the inequality is stark.
White men at the pinnacle of the pyramid, who work as bartenders and servers at luxury restaurants, can make as much as $100,000 to $150,000 a year. But Black and Latino workers are either not hired or paid closer to the minimum wage, according to a study released this week by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), a nationwide nonprofit that is moving to Oakland.
The study, called “Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants: Racial and Gender Occupational Segregation in the Restaurant Industry,” was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Chris Benner of UC Santa Cruz and the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley.
The statistics confirm what Oaklanders can see at many of the 300 fancy new bars and restaurants that have opened in the city in the past year.
People of color are in the lowest paying jobs. Black people, regardless of experience and qualifications, are not hired.
Latinos make up 52 percent of all restaurant employees in California, but are 65 percent of back-of-the-house workers, the report said. African Americans, on the other hand, only make up 3 percent of the total workforce in the state’s restaurant industry, and those who are hired, work disproportionately in the lowest paying jobs.
Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of ROC United, cited investigative research done by her organization, which sent out white job seekers with worse resumes to the same restaurants as people of color with resumes that showed more and better work experience.
In general, white applicants were hired. People of color were told there were no openings.
One of the speakers at Tuesday’s release of the study was Adrian Henderson, an owner of Kingston 11, a Black-owned restaurant on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.
He said that Black job applicants who come into his business have told him they “don’t even get an opportunity to talk to a manager when they walk into an establishment that is owned by white folks.”
In addition, he said, Black applicants show up to apply for jobs dressed professionally, while white jobseekers, tend “to show up in flip flops, shorts, t-shirts, not looking presentable for an interview.”
Shonda Roberts, a member of ROC-The Bay, has been working in restaurants for the past 20 years.
“I’d love to move up in the industry, but I was never able to move up to the front of the house. The front of the house is white, and the back of the house is people of color. It is segregated,” said Roberts, speaking at the Tuesday press conference.
Nicole Deane, a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, is part of Oakland Opportunity Challenge, which is a coalition that is developing a campaign to encourage restaurants to hire Black workers and follow up with picketing and other kinds of public pressure on those businesses that are not interested in becoming responsible residents of the city.
“My perspective is that there’s nothing wrong with Black workers,” she said. “There is something wrong with not hiring Black workers.”
Deane said she was told by the owner of one restaurant in response to the question as to why there were no Black workers in the establishment, “I don’t think about race when it comes to hiring, but I have to be sure I’m hiring people who can work hard and provide good service.”
In addition to hearing that kind of racism, she said she knows of a number of incidents of disrespectful treatment of Black customers at upscale restaurants in Oakland.
“Businesses that come here should be welcoming to all races,” said Deane.
“Black people should be able to work in these restaurants and walk into a restaurant and get good service.”