BOOTHING - Ming Liu of the Step Forward Foundation collected surveys from restaurant employees in Town Plaza Park this month about their working conditions. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Earlier this month, a representative for a UC Berkeley research project set up a booth in Town Plaza Park in hopes of connecting with locals in a key sector of the Los Gatos economy—food service.

In partnership with the County of Santa Clara, contractor Ming Liu, of the Step Forward Foundation solicited responses on behalf of Sadie Costello, the associate director of the Northern California Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, which is based at Cal.

We caught up with Costello afterwards over email for a deeper look at what the researchers hope to discover.

Sadie Costello. (UC Berkeley)

What exactly is covered by the term “retail food worker”?

For this project we are focusing on workers in fast food and sit-down restaurants.

How did this collaboration between the County’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement and Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program come about?

UC Berkeley and LOHP work together on other projects. We were approached by Santa Clara County’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement and were invited to submit a competitive proposal for this project.

What are you hoping to accomplish by surveying the people who are involved in helping to distribute food through retail channels?

Our goal is to understand more about working conditions in the fast food and restaurant industries.

To what extent is this just part of routine data collection, or is this the sort of research that could fill in certain gaps in our understanding of market trends and human rights practices?

This is a research project that aims to fill gaps in our understanding of working conditions in the retail food industry. Very little is known about the experience of workers in this industry, because research has often not focused on the experiences of this important working population.

What do you believe the value of this effort might be, and when can we expect the survey results to be released?

We hope that the results of this study will help improve working conditions for fast food and restaurant workers. We expect to finish our report in Fall 2024.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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