In major U.S. metropolitan cities, approximately 70 percent of the restaurant workforce self-identifies as “immigrants,” according to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a nationwide organization whose mission is to improve the wages and working conditions of restaurant workers.
The restaurant industry, among the largest in the nation, is also one of the lowest-paying ones, with undocumented immigrant workers at the very bottom of the pay scale. The threat of deportation keeps them silent in the face of exploitation — from wage theft to unsafe working conditions — while the owners and investors of these restaurants pass on the savings to diners like Miller, Nielsen and us.
We, as a nation, want our food to be plentiful and affordable. But it’s worth remembering that the enterprise of cost cutting begins with the estimated 50 to 70 percent of U.S. farm workers who are undocumented, according to the United Fresh Produce Association, an industry trade group. It begins with their families, who earn about $10,000 a year, according to Ricardo Salvador, the director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. What if these families, most of whom are from Mexico or Central America, earned a living wage? How much would our broccoli and eggplants cost us?