Restaurant workers and coalition partners, on January 25, rallied in the fight for One Fair Wage, a national effort to bring New York in line with seven other states, that pay tipped workers their state’s general minimum wage, on top of their tips. In New York, tipped food service workers make a subminimum wage ranging from $7.50 – $8.65, relying on tips to bring them up to the state’s general minimum wage, which ranges from $10.40 – $13.00, depending on the region. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the NYS Restaurant Association oppose one fair wage for tipped workers on the grounds that it will hurt employers and employees alike, despite evidence to the contrary in states like California and Nevada where the restaurant industry continues to thrive. Tipped-wage workers in states with one fair wage also report making as much or more in tips than tipped-wage workers in New York.
“Sexual harassment is standard practice in the restaurant industry where employers are willing to profit off women but won’t pay them a fair wage,” said Saru Jayaraman, President and Co-Founder of ROC United, and author of Behind the Kitchen Door: The People Who Make and Serve Your Food. “With just a small change in policy New York can make a big difference for a majority female workforce.”
Jayaraman recently appeared on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher to discuss the issue, and attended the Golden Globes with Amy Poehler as part of the #TimesUp campaign to end sexual harassment across industries.
With nearly 13 million employees, the restaurant industry is the single-largest source of sexual harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), with a rate twice that of the general female workforce.
Seventy percent of restaurant servers are women, who experience a disproportionate amount of sexual harassment as a result of the broken two-tiered wage system. Relying on tips to make a living wage forces workers to tolerate sexual harassment from customers in return for gratuities,” and they often receive additional pressure from management to dress in a revealing way to attract larger tips.
According to a 2014 study conducted by ROC United, the lead organizer of the One Fair Wage campaign, women dependent on tips are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment than women who aren’t. A 2016 follow-up study in D.C. found that over 90% of restaurant workers surveyed experienced some form of sexualized behavior while at work. A similar 2016 study in Boston found that 35% of tipped workers had been sexually harassed by customers, over twice as many as other workers in the same survey.
“New Economy Project fights for economic justice for all New Yorkers and strongly supports the elimination of the subminimum wage for tipped workers,” said Juleon Robinson, Program Associate at New Economy Project. “We’ve seen how low wages drive people into predatory debt traps and perpetuate racial and economic inequality. It’s time for New York to guarantee equal pay and a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, for all New Yorkers.”
“New York women routinely endure discrimination and harassment in order to provide for their families,” said Dina Bakst, co-Founder and co-President of A Better Balance. “This is especially true for women in the restaurant industry, who must rely on tips in order to make minimum wage. As a legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring fairness and justice for low-income women, A Better Balance is proud to stand with our partners at Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United who are fighting through the One Fair Wage campaign to end the culture of sexism and abuse within the restaurant industry.”
In his January State of the State address, Governor Cuomo announced that the State Department of Labor will hold hearings to examine elimination of the tipped-wage. The National Restaurant Association opposes the One Fair Wage campaign, spreading misinformation that it will deny workers their tips. This is false. The restaurant industry is thriving in states with One Fair Wage, and workers there make as much or more in tips as waitstaff in New York.
- In 2015 New York State raised its Tipped Minimum Wage (TMW) from $5 to $7.50.
- Salaries went up 6.4% on average.
- Restaurant jobs in New York increased, by 1.1%
- Pennsylvania border counties, which did not see a TMW increase, saw average full-service restaurant salaries go up 2.2% and employment decrease by 0.2%
- One Fair Wage has nothing to do with tips. The proposal doesn’t eliminate tipping, and in the seven states that have eliminated the subminimum wage for tipped workers, tipping practices have remained the same. In some cases, tipping is higher in One Fair Wage states than in states with a subminimum wage.