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Report compares California’s restaurant industry pay to Jim Crow

An academic report released in October says that California’s restaurant industry is so discriminatory against female and minority workers that it resembles the worst days of racial segregation in the American South. Based on the title alone, which reads in part, “Ending Jim Crow in America’s Restaurants,” the report certainly does not pull any punches.

The report is the result of a collaboration between a UC Santa Cruz professor and UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center. Among its findings: woman of color in the restaurant industry earn 71 percent of what white men earn. White women and men of color barely do better; they earn 80 percent and 82 percent of their white male colleagues, according to the report.

Part of this income disparity may be because restaurant management jobs in California are dominated by white men. The study reports that fully 81 percent of manager positions, and 78 percent of upper-level non-management roles, are filled by white workers, with a disproportionate number of those white managers being men, according to The Daily Californian.

Meanwhile, minorities are more likely to have jobs in the back of the house, such as kitchen staff, cooks and cleaners, as opposed to waiting tables and hosting. Front-of-the-house jobs earn 12 percent more on average than their co-workers in the back.

After interviewing employment discrimination experts and 12 restaurant owners and general managers about the subject, the study’s lead author said there are “real barriers as well as perceived barriers” for people of color and women looking to get equal pay in California’s restaurant industry.

This could require policy changes in the industry, perhaps spurred by legal action like class action litigation.