The group of ten guests has finally departed, and I rush out from dish pit behind the kitchen to bus and reset the tables, the faucets of the sink still on. With a staff of just four at the bar I worked at, I was responsible for bussing, running food, washing dishes, and watching over the needs of the bartenders. My boss yells through the kitchen window to hurry up, but I’m already going as fast as I can in these cramped quarters. In this industry, working under pressure is expected and the pace is unrelenting. Yet, restaurant workers are some of the lowest paid in the economy, constituting a majority of minimum wage jobs. But with momentum building, a minimum wage increase may be on the horizon, a step towards addressing today’s growing economic inequality.
Last year in Oakland, a nonprofit workers center called the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) opened, bringing a much-needed resource for low-wage restaurant workers in the Bay Area. What began in New York City has expanded to ten branches across the country. Over the summer, I interned with ROC and, like many college graduates, I also took on a minimum wage restaurant job because of the slow job market in the nonprofit sector. There I learned of the struggles going on in the restaurant industry.