COVID-19 has revealed the deep structural inequities of the service sector, and has thus created a tremendous opportunity to organize both workers and employers for the change we’ve always needed. We can’t go back—we can only go forward together and reimagine an industry in which all thrive.
Before the pandemic, there were more than 13 million restaurant workers and nearly 6 million tipped workers across the United States, including restaurant, car wash, nail salon, tech platform delivery, and other workers. The National Restaurant Association had argued since emancipation that, given customer tips, they should be able to pay their tipped employees a subminimum wage, today just $2.13 an hour federally. A legacy of slavery, the subminimum wage for tipped workers today is a gender equity issue; 70% of tipped workers are women, disproportionately women of color, who work in nail and hair salons and casual restaurants such as IHOP and Denny’s, live in poverty at three times the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce, and suffer from the worst sexual harassment of any industry because they are forced to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to feed their families in tips.
Seven states—California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Minnesota, Nevada, and Montana—have rejected this legacy of slavery and pay One Fair Wage, a full minimum wage with tips on top. These states have comparable or higher restaurant sales per capita, job growth among tipped workers and the restaurant industry, and tipping averages than the 43 states with lower wages for tipped workers, and half the rate of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. One Fair Wage, the organization I lead, has been fighting to ensure that the nation follows the leadership of these seven states.
The poet/editor of this website is physically disabled, and lives at a fraction of her nation’s poverty level. Contributions may be made at: https://www.gofundme.com/are-you-a-patron-of-the-arts