Restaurants Need to Do More Than Ethically Source Their Food

Leonora and Fernando* came to NWJP with an all too common story. They worked in a restaurant, as a cook and dishwasher. For years they had worked long hours, six to seven days a week, doing whatever needed done behind the scenes in the restaurant to bring amazing food to the table on sparkling clean dishes.

Despite their tireless work their paychecks never quite seemed right. They were paid for most of their time, though not the 15-20 minutes they were often required to come in before their shift. And they were not paid an overtime premium for any of their many hours over 40 in a given week.

This is one of the most common stories we hear at NWJP. The Oregon restaurant industry is thriving; it has brought innovative, delicious, and ethically sourced food into the spotlight. But it also has a serious problem with wage theft, especially among those workers that are tucked away behind the scenes, often invisible to customers.

Fortunately Leonora and Fernando's story ends well. Confronted with the evidence, the restaurant owner quickly acknowledged her wrongs and we were able to negotiate a resolution that resulted in our clients receiving all their unpaid wages, and significant penalties, as well, to help compensate them for the time and energy they had to put into enforcing their rights.

Not all workers are as successful in fighting their exploitation. Which is why we have to find a way to improve the food scene in Oregon from the inside out and make treating workers ethically as important as finding ethically sourced ingredients.

*Not their real names