SF Weekly: Half of Chinatown Restaurant Workers Earn Less Than Minimum Wage

by Lauren Smiley

SF Weekly

September 17th, 2010

 

SAN FRANCISCO - The orange chicken at the Chinese muzak-playing restaurants on Grant Street may taste a little bitter after digesting this unsavory morsel: It turns out a full 50 percent of Chinatown restaurant workers earn less than the city's minimum wage, according to a study released by the Chinese Progressive Association and the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) today. Minimum wage was $9.36 at the time of the study, but $9.79 now.

The workers keeping up the facade of a cheery Chinatown for the tourists are actually exposed to "sweatshop working conditions," according to a DPH press release.

One out of five workers are putting in more than 60 hours a week, and still, 95 percent do not earn a living wage. On average, the report found, Chinatown restaurant workers make $8.17 an hour. But 27 percent are making at or below $6.25 an hour, while another 13 percent make at or below $5 an hour.

Many can only afford to live with their families in cramped SROs of just 80 square feet, the study said. Additionally, in the city famous for pioneering universal health care, only 3 percent of workers have any employer-provided health care.

The report recommends that city become more proactive about enforcing labor and health and safety laws, and produce a guide of responsible businesses that pay a living wage.

"The health department cannot stand on the sidelines," says Rajiv Bhatia, the director of occupational and environmental health for the Department of Public Health, in a statement. "We've decided to use our regulatory tools to ensure that all businesses we permit are achieving a healthy standard for workers."

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