Study Finds Significant Number of Workers Making Below Minimum Wage in SF Chinatown Restaurants
Chinatown restaurant workers in
conjunction with the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) and key
research partners will release a study that exposes sweatshop conditions
in restaurant workers in the popular tourist district Chinatown. This
groundbreaking report examines health and working conditions in
Chinatown restaurants, with over 400 workers interviewed by their peers,
and lays out a vision for improving working conditions for a healthy
Chinatown.Key findings about the working conditions include:
• 1 out of 2 workers (50%) receive less than minimum wage
• 1 out of 5 workers (20%) work more than 60 hours a week
• Nearly half (48%) of workers have experienced burn injury
• Only 3% of workers have employer provided health care
• 95% do not receive a living wage
Through this important study, Check, Please! Health and Working Conditions in San Francisco Chinatown Restaurants
Chinatown workers are exposing the sweatshop working conditions that
they must endure. While thousands of locals and tourists who enjoy
Chinatown each day, workers are struggling to make ends meet and provide
for their families. Many workers and their families are forced to live
in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) spaces in Chinatown that average about 80
This study finds that labor law violations hurt the local economy.
Out of the estimated $70.8 million economy (taxable sales) in
Chinatown’s restaurant industry, workers lose over $8 million dollars a
year due to labor law violations. For a kitchen worker, this is
approximately $6,000 per year and 30% of their annual income.
“I worked in a Chinatown restaurant for seven years. It’s a hard
job. I worked 6 days a week and got paid $900 a month, less than minimum
wage. I stayed there because I have two kids and we all need to
survive,” a worker stated.
Other studies show this is a national epidemic. The National Employment Law Project’s (NELP) 2010 national study Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers
that wage theft and employment law violations in low wage labor markets
are widespread in major US cities. Nationally, two thirds of low wage
workers are denied full pay and 26% workers are paid below minimum wage.
Meredith Minkler DrPH, MPH, Professor of Public Health at UC
Berkeley and Principal Investigator of the study said, "This is really a
ground breaking study in its combination of sound scientific methods,
high level community partnership, and the translation of findings in
ways that can result in real change. I know of no other study that has
surveyed such a large population of low wage immigrant restaurant
workers. By also including detailed health department observations in
over 100 Chinatown restaurants, this study produced dramatic findings
about the health and safety of workers that calls out for redress."
“These finding are sobering and unacceptable. We understand these
problems will take time to solve and we are committed to working with
the community to develop solutions. With the economy as tough as it is,
we cannot afford to ignore the dangers of rampant wage theft and a
situation where 95% of workers earn below a living wage,“ observed SF
Supervisor Eric Mar.
This study has already prompted action by SFDPH. Director of
Occupational and Environmental Health, Rajiv Bhatia, MD, MPH, confirmed,
"The study findings demonstrate that unhealthy workplaces and labor
violations are a hazard for worker and public health. The health
department cannot stand on the sidelines. We've decided to use our
regulatory tools to ensure that all businesses we permit are achieving a
healthy standard for workers. Although our pilot projects have
highlighted opportunities for improved compliance, there is much much
more to do."
After the results of the survey findings, workers discussed solutions to improve workers health and working conditions. The report will outline the key recommendations:
§ Convene community stakeholder roundtables
After initiating dialogues with workers, community members, community
leaders, and businesses in Chinatown, CPA will continue by convening
community roundtable meetings the next couple of months.
§ Strengthen enforcement of labor and health and safety laws
San Francisco should shift enforcement strategy as other states like
New York have taken steps to be proactive and strategic to hold
employers accountable and partner with workers and community
organizations to develop new enforcement mechanisms. San Francisco
should move in this direction.
§ Significantly invest in Chinatown’s economic development
Chinatown needs diversified economic development with strong labor
standards, small business stabilization and technical assistance. This
needs to be accompanied with promoting responsible employers.
1. Creation of a city guide to good businesses that pay living wage and provide health and safety protections
2. City funded economic development projects should mandate living wage to support responsible businesses
§ Address high unemployment through job creation and training programs.
worker Lin Gan stated, “Many people say we cannot change Chinatown, but
I am proof that it is possible. These problems infect all of
Chinatown—like the New On Sang poultry market where I worked for $6 an
hour and wasn’t paid for over 2 months. Many people said, New On Sang
will never pay you back--but by organizing and uniting with community,
we got our back wages. In the same way, we believe that the community
can come together to find solutions to the problems in Chinatown
Check, Please! was funded by the National Institute for
Occupational Health and Safety (NIOHS), The California Endowment and The
California Wellness Foundation. The research was designed and conducted
by restaurant workers in partnership with researchers from UC Berkeley
and UCSF San Francisco, UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program,
and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, with writing support
from the DataCenter. The full report and executive summary will be
available online at www.cpasf.org.
Chinese Progressive Association educates and organizes the low
income and working-class immigrant Chinese community in San Francisco.
Since 2004, CPA has helped restaurant and food industry workers recover
over $725,000 in unpaid wages and minimum wage violations. CPA also
played a leadership role in passing Prop L - SF Minimum Wage Ordinance,
Prop F - SF Paid Sick Leave Ordinance and the SF Second Hand Smoke