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Sick, yet forced to serve food in Philly eateries

From paid sick time or healthcare to decent work environments, workers overwhelmingly lack benefits.

Two out of three restaurant workers in Philadelphia reported handling food while sick, according to a study released yesterday that is highly critical of the industry. The report, published by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United in conjunction with two other groups, says that 93 percent of restaurant workers do not have paid sick leave, causing many of them to work while they are ill. It also concludes that more than 90 percent of workers lack health benefits, and that there are wage disparities among demographics.

"I think of all employment groups, restaurant workers coming in sick makes the least sense because the danger of spreading it widely is much more likely," said City Councilman Bill Greenlee, who co-sponsored legislation that would have required most employers to provide paid sick time. The legislation was vetoed by Mayor Michael Nutter.

The restaurant association disagreed with the report, claiming it is an effort to help organize workers.

"This group has formed chapters in other cities and they come out with virtually the same report," said Patrick Conroy, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Yet some workers claim the report is right on target. Jason, a local restaurant worker who declined to give his last name, said he has worked in the industry for 15 years. He said he has never received paid sick days or medical benefits.

Greenlee said he plans to reintroduce the paid sick leave legislation and hopes the report highlights the "unfair" conditions workers face.

Stabbed by an oyster knife

One restaurant worker, who asked that his name be withheld, has worked in the industry for eight years and said employees often are victims of verbal and physical abuse.

"I’ve had people throw things at me, flip my entire work station. I got stabbed in the hand with a oyster knife by an owner," he said.

The 27-year-old who is currently a line cook said he believes much of the abuse is a result of alcohol and drug abuse.

Most of the incidents, he said, go unreported.

"It’s not behind closed doors, it’s usually in the middle of the kitchen with 15 to 20 people seeing it happen. You don’t really report things like that," he said. "There’s really no one to report it to. Most restaurants don’t have [human resources]."

 
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