waiter.jpgIt’s an unsettling reality — many of the people who cook and serve us food when we go out to eat don’t have sick days or health insurance.

So, it should be no surprise if the omelet you had at your local diner this morning was prepared by a cook who had the sniffles.

A national survey released today of more than 4,000 restaurant workers, conducted by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, found the majority of employees in food service do just that.
“Nearly 90% of workers said they did not receive paid sick days. As a result, two thirds of respondents said they had worked while sick in the previous year, preparing, cooking and serving food,” according to the poll.
The survey also revealed:

*90% of people reported not having health insurance through their employers, and 61% reported not having health insurance at all. Almost one quarter (22.7%) reported that they or a family member had gone to the emergency room without being able to pay last year.

*More than 90% of workers avoided MD visits because they could not pay, and over 50% avoided getting prescriptions. *Health and safety violations reported by restaurant workers include: fire hazards; missing mats on the floor to prevent slipping; and missing guards on cutting machines. 46% of respondents have been burned on the job and 49% reported being cut on the job.“Restaurants should offer workers safer places to work, and workers should have access to benefits including health insurance, paid sick days and workers’ compensation insurance,” said ROC United Director Saru Jayaraman. “Without these improvements, the industry will continue to put both workers and consumers at risk.”

The first argument I typically hear when the issue of providing sick days and health insurance to workers is, it would be too much of a hardship on small businesses.

I can see that side of the argument, but the reality is there are restaurants out there that do provide these things and are still doing well.

Take egg restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“At egg, we believe that healthcare and paid time off are benefits that every employee deserves access to,” said Holly Howard, director of operations and development. “Any employee working a minimum of 8hrs/wk is eligible for healthcare 45 days after date of hire. We pay 50%.”In addition, after 6 months of employment, any full-time employee, working a minimum of 32 hrs/wk, begins to accrue time off up to 80hrs/yr. Modern research proves that a healthy employee is a happier, more productive, more profitable employee.”

Sounds like a good business strategy.

Alas, most employers won’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts. That’s where the Healthy Families Act comes in. The act would mandate up to seven sick days a year. It’s a long shot during tough economic times, but it’s perplexing that the United States is one of the only industrialized nation without federally mandated sick days.

Some states have pushed legislation through to provide some paid sick time, but many labor advocates believe we need the benefit nationwide.

Is sick time for all really shut a way out idea?

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