Sucking it up has been the working code for restaurants long before Escoffier organized the kitchen along actual military lines in the 19th century. It’s always been how things are done: You cut your finger, even shear-the-tip-off badly, but can still grasp a knife in your bandaged, finger-cotted, and latex-gloved hand, you finish your shift. It’s a mark of your commitment to the craft. Same’s true of getting a cold or the flu: Unless Chef takes pity (or gets pissed because he sees your sweat droplets hit the brunoise), you suck it up and work. Kitchens—and dining rooms—are not for the weak.
That’s changing. Laws mandating paid sick days for restaurant workers are gaining momentum in some cities. San Francisco voters passed a paid sick leave ordinance for all city workers, including part-timers, in 2006—it was the nation’s first. Washington DC, Portland, Seattle, and Philly have similar laws; Connecticut passed one that applies statewide.
New York City enacted a similar ordinance, though it applied only to businesses with 20 or more workers. That changes on April 1. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a paid-sick-leave law that takes effect next month and applies to all businesses with more than five employees. As a guy who spent nearly two decades cooking in restaurants, logging countless sick days on the line, I can say this is a great thing for New York—and I’m sure the people I was cooking for would agree, if they knew I was sucking it up, sprinkling borage flowers onto their salads with a healthy shedding of influenza virus.
Now about that tipped-minimum wage….