Food Labor Research Center

The Food Labor Research Center was launched in Fall 2012 by Saru Jayaraman, and is a project of the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The Food Labor Research Center also has affiliation and active involvement with the Berkeley Food Institute at UC Berkeley and Goldman School of Public Policy. While there are several university centers that focus on labor studies, the Food Labor Research Center is the first academic institution in the country to focus on the intersection between food and labor issues. For more information.

Cooks in restaurant kitchen. From Jayaraman's book "Behind the Kitchen Door"
From Jayaraman’s book “Behind the Kitchen Door”

Working Below the Line

Principal Investigators: Laurel Fletcher (Law), Saru Jayaraman (Food Labor Research Center), and Allison Davenport (Law)
Collaborators: Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Food Chain Workers Alliance. Funded through the BFI Seed Grant Program.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration to ensure an existence worthy of human dignity. However, for many low-wage tipped workers in the U.S. restaurant industry these standards are out of reach. Rooted in exploitation of workers, the custom of tipping has evolved since its origins in the late nineteenth century. It has become codified in a two-tiered minimum wage system that denies tipped restaurant workers fair wages and basic labor protections. This report sheds light on the ways in which federal and state laws maintain this wage structure and enable working conditions in the restaurant industry that violate fundamental human rights protections for tipped workers, particularly women and people of color. This human rights analysis points to significant human rights deprivations and the need for new laws and policies.

Download the full report.

Policy Brief: The Right to a Living Wage for Restaurant Workers: The Role of Service Charge Regulation

By Sarah Ting

Many restaurant workers fall below the poverty line. In addition to an increased minimum wage, tipping and service charges (an obligatory fee included on the customer’s bill, sometimes in lieu of optional tipping) have the potential to help restaurant workers make a living wage. This brief recommends that service charge regulations be considered to close an existing loophole within California’s labor code.

Download the full policy brief.