A restaurant trade group and a health insurance giant have a plan to provide health benefits to food service workers in the oven.
The National Restaurant Association and United Healthcare Inc. are debuting a menu of benefit options in Pennsylvania and Colorado. The Restaurant Health Care Alliance plans could be offered in Texas in 2011.
Anna Waldron wears about four different hats at any one time while working as a manager at Josephine's Italian Bistro in Frisco. She said that while she loves her salary and loves working with people, she may not stay because she needs a job with health care benefits.
"My husband was working at a corporation and he got laid off," she said. "We've been on COBRA, and it ends at the end of this month."
COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, allows families to continue their health benefits for a limited period of time after a job loss or change and other circumstances.
Chris Gangi, the owner of Josephine's, said he doesn't want to lose Waldron. But talented, valued employees come and go constantly, he said.
"Whether they be managers or servers or bartenders, they do move on, and benefits play a big part in that," Gangi said.
Smaller restaurants especially have it tough. Gangi said even competitive salaries aren't enough to retain good workers.
Job turnover requires retraining of new employees, and that costs time, money and customers.
"You have to get them to learn the menu, you have to try the different items on there -- I mean there's all kinds of things," Gangi said.
The Restaurant Health Care Alliance is being hailed as the largest private-sector expansion of health care benefits in U.S. history.
Between 4 and 6 million of the nearly 13 million food service workers in hte country are uninsured, according to the National Restaurant Association and United Healthcare. Coverage for uninsured food service employees could cut the number of Americans without health care benefits by 10 percent.
Waldron said any health care coverage could mean she could stay at the job she loves.
"You'd have the salary that you want, and you'd also have the benefits that have the health coverage," she said.