Fri Feb 1, 2013, 02:02 AM
HiPointDem (20,729 posts)
Food industry's labor practices may contribute to some of nation's most common foodborne illnesses
Fifteen minutes before Victoria Bruton's lunch shift at a busy Philadelphia dining joint, she began to feel dizzy and hot. "I had gone to my boss and asked if I could leave because I wasn't feeling well," Bruton, now 41, remembers of her first case of what she assumed to be the flu. "They asked that I finish the shift. And frankly, I couldn't afford not to." The sole source of income for her two daughters, Bruton powered through the shift—and spent the next two days confined to a sickbed.
Like most of the country, Philadelphia doesn't require restaurants to pay sick leave for its food handlers, though long-time food workers like Bruton, advocacy organizations, and lawmakers are currently fighting for a law to do so in Pennsylvania. Councilmen in Portland, Oregon are also currently debating a similar initiative. But these two proposals are the exception rather than the norm: According to a study from the Food Chain Workers Alliance, 79 percent of food workers in the United States don't have paid sick leave or don't know if they do. And it's not just flu that sick servers can spread—a study out this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the food industry's labor practices may be contributing to some of the nation's most common foodborne illness outbreaks, and more so than previously thought.
The report draws from a decade’s worth of records detailing nearly 4,600 outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. Of them, the agency found that 46 percent of outbreaks arose from an oft-ignored culprit: leafy vegetables contaminated with norovirus, a highly contagious bug with stomach flu-like symptoms. Another recent CDC study traced a whopping 53 percent of norovirus outbreaks, and possibly up to 82 percent, to infected food workers.
Other researchers have also tied norovirus outbreaks to lack of paid sick leave, citing restaurant managerial practices as a major risk factor in the spread of foodborne illness. But the National Restaurant Association, along with state restaurant trade associations, has fired back, citing tight expenses and the fast-paced nature of the industry as reasons why restaurants shouldn't be required to offer paid sick leave...."...what happens is that you've got to pay somebody who doesn't show up to work because they're sick, and you've got to pay someone who does show up to cover the shift. You're paying double."
Sarumathi Jayaraman, co-founder of food worker advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United...agrees that the lack of paid sick leave helps perpetuate pretty big public health problems. "An employer in New York actually openly told us that it's kind of a joke in our industry that our industry is single-handedly responsible for perpetuating the flu in the winter season because everyone knows restaurant workers work when they're sick," Jayaraman says. "Everybody knows it, and it just happens. It's just tragic."
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