224501 Addressing a Hobson's choice: The social cost of a lack of paid sick days and health insurance for restaurant workers

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 : 3:15 PM - 3:30 PM

Kenneth Shaw, JD , Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, New York, NY
The restaurant industry is the fastest growing industry in the U.S., and the third largest private employer. However, many restaurants employ “low road” work practices that deny benefits in exchange for cutting costs. Consequentially, almost 80% of restaurant workers do not have paid sick days and fewer have employer sponsored health insurance—creating severe public health risks for workers and consumers.

In 2004, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 251 reported outbreaks involving 10,000 victims across the country were related to food borne illnesses—93 of which were tied to restaurants. More recently, regarding the outbreak and reoccurrence of H1N1, elected officials recommended that people stay home if affected with the flu. However, low-paid restaurant workers faced with a choice of losing pay or their jobs are less likely to follow these recommendations. Further complicating the matter, without employer sponsored health insurance, these workers are not able to access primary medical care to prevent and treat disease. Both problems impose significant social costs for the public.

In this session, we will describe how the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-U) is working with Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act to guarantee workers up to seven paid sick days a year. We will also address how paid sick days ties directly into a need for low cost health insurance, and how ROC-U is spear-heading a Restaurant Worker National Health Insurance Fund to fill the gap for low-paid workers who need but cannot afford currently available health insurance.

Learning Areas:
Protection of the public in relation to communicable diseases including prevention or control
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
1) Discuss the significance of the restaurant industry as a private employer. 2) Assess the public health risks associated with a lack of paid sick days and a lack of access to primary health care. 3) Enumerate how the Health Families Act can reduce the social cost effects of paid sick days while increasing employer productivity.

Keywords: Occupational Health, Advocacy

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I work on this campaign for ROC-U.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.