The Food Industry’s Impact on Portland’s Economy: See The Numbers
Friday, April 17, 2015
Food service is a “driving force” in the Oregon economy, according to the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association (ORLA). Though there is no figure projected for just the Portland area, according to the ORLA, Oregon’s restaurants are projected to register $6.9 billion in sales in 2015.
However, during the 12-month period ending in June 2014, about 74 restaurant workers statewide filed a claim alleging minimum wage violations.
Minimum wage violations are just one form of wage theft, which could also include not paying workers overtime, requiring workers to do uncompensated work or withholding tips. Over 1,100 workers filed with BOLI claiming any variety of wage theft.
“It can take many different forms,” said Ordenez.
The center pulled data from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) to illustrate that the problem is likely lurking unseen.
“We view these as the tip of the iceberg,” said Juan Carlos Ordonez, communication director for the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “Workers understandably are reluctant to come forward. They fear they will lose their job or face reprisals of whatever form they might take.”
On top of that, some workers are not aware that they can come forward.
In general, even when restaurant workers are being paid according to the law, many are employed part-time or seasonally, which also may affect their ability to make ends meet.
In Portland, food services and drinking places spent $1.25 billion on wages in 2013. Averaged over 69,977 employees, that’s about $17,876 in annual wages per worker, according to the Oregon Employment Department (OED).
The department keeps figures specifically for the Portland metro area using the metropolitan statistical area as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau but subtracting Vancouver’s figures. The area, which includes Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties as well as Yamhill and Columbia counties, contains roughly half of Oregon’s restaurants.
Wages are slightly higher in the Portland area for restaurant workers, though not much. A restaurant worker in Portland made about $1,000 more in 2013 than elsewhere in the state.
Ordonez said, “One of the best things lawmakers can do… with respect to the fact that a lot of families are struggling economically” is pass House Bill 2009, which would increase the $9.25 minimum wage incrementally over the next three years until it reached $15 per hour in 2018.
The House Business and Labor Committee held a public hearing Monday and will hold a work session on the bill next Monday, April 20.
The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association is a strong vocal opponent of the bill, saying that tipped workers earn quite a bit more than minimum wage.
But Ordonez said that the data doesn’t really hold up that claim, since the Oregon Employment Department’s 2014 wage survey includes tips. The survey, which divides restaurant industry jobs into roles—all of which make less than $30,000 annually except for chefs, which make an average of $39,000. The data showed that only the top 10 percent of bartenders or waiters make almost $13 an hour.
However, Ordonez said that a minimum wage increase is just one step the legislature can take. “There are additional steps that the legislature needs to take to address some dishonest employers sometimes cheat their employers out of pay,” he said.
While workers can file with BOLI and receive a ruling in their favor, “actually getting them to pay is problematic,” said Ordonez, who advocated for BOLI to have greater capacity to go after employers who cheat their workers out of pay.
Senate Bill 718 would also “deter employers from engaging in wage theft and for workers to recover the wages they have lost,” he said.
A work session for the bill is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday, April 20, before the Senate Workforce Committee.