March 31, 2009 / 7:10 PM / in 9 years

NY restaurants favor white, male workers: report

NEW YORK (Reuters) - While New York is a melting pot of races and cultures, racial and gender discrimination is still prevalent in the city’s restaurant industry, according to a study released on Tuesday.

<p>A waiter in a file photo. REUTERS/File</p>

City restaurants hire and promote white men more often than women and nonwhite workers, the study by The Restaurant Opportunities Group said.

The nonprofit group sent pairs of workers, one white and one nonwhite, to apply for wait staff positions at 138 unidentified fine dining restaurants in Manhattan over a year.

Although all the phony applicants were U.S. citizens and had the same credentials, nonwhite workers were half as likely to receive a job offer than white workers, the study found.

Researchers also examined census data, conducted worker and employer interviews, and analyzed wages from information provided in questionnaires.

Some nonwhites were subjected to racial stereotyping and some women faced sexual harassment, Rekha Eanni Rodriguez, an attorney for the group, said in an interview.

“This report shows that workers of color and women face obstacles in getting equal opportunities through all stages of restaurant work, from hiring to moving up once they are in the workplace,” Eanni said.

The restaurant industry is the largest employer of immigrants in the nation, representing 17.5 percent of the industry’s 8 million employees nationwide, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited in the report.

Many new U.S. immigrants head to New York to work in restaurants and the city’s diverse ethnic cuisine makes it a dining destination.

TOUGH TO ADVANCE

Nonwhite workers make up almost three-quarters of New York’s restaurant labor force, according to 2000 U.S. census figures highlighted in the report.

While New York provides jobs for many nonwhite workers, the report said it is difficult for those workers to advance.

The majority of management and higher wage positions like waiters and bartenders were awarded to white workers, while nonwhite workers commonly held lower paid positions like busboys and food runners, the study said.

Men held 79 percent of top management positions and 67 percent of waiter and bartending positions, the study said.

And 2000 census data showed nonwhite workers earned 11.6 percent less than white workers with the same qualifications, the study said.

A spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association did not return a call seeking comment.

Eanni said the study undercut common arguments from restaurant owners who said nonwhite workers were hired less frequently because they lacked experience and education and had a poor command of English. “We found there were a lot of assumptions about accents,” she said.

Nonwhite applicants who applied for jobs in the study included persons of Central and South American, Asian, Southeast Asian, African and African-American descent.

The nonprofit group’s efforts to fight wage discrimination have resulted in payouts of $4.5 million to restaurant employees. Their actions also sparked several lawsuits against restaurant owners.

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