Nationwide shutdowns during the COVID-19 epidemic have struck a severe blow to the restaurant industry, with one study estimating that 4 million restaurant workers in the U.S. are at risk of losing their jobs in a matter of weeks. But Saru Jayaraman, the co-founder of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley, believes that the number is much higher than that. “And that is devastating, because this industry had severe structural inequality problems that existed long before this crisis,” says Jayaraman. “In particular, this industry, unlike almost every other industry, was allowed to pay a subminimum wage to tipped workers, forcing them to live off of tips. That’s an actual, literal legacy of slavery and a source of terrible sexual harassment for a mostly female workforce of servers, bartenders and bussers.” Jayaraman is also president of One Fair Wage, which has launched an emergency fund to support workers during this time.
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