fresh voices from the front lines of change







Today, 2/13, is the day before Valentine’s Day. $2.13 is the base wage at which tipped employees must be paid, implemented in 1991. This means that there is a strong likelihood that the server of your Friday evening Valentine’s dinner would not be able to purchase a gallon of milk with the money coming that hour solely from his or her employer.

Why do tipped workers get paid so little? Well, it is because the minimum wage in 1991 was set at $4.25, so tipped workers got just over half of that. Since that time, there have been five increases in minimum wage, to a federal $7.25 an hour, but tipped workers have been held at $2.13, instead of $3.63 an hour if tipped minimum wage was still tied to the federal minimum wage. Congress has decided to step out of this battle, allowing restaurants to keep paying their workers a base tipped wage of $2.13, plus the difference between the federal minimum wage and what the worker receives in tips. For the record, Congress has voted to increase its own salary twelve times in that time span, from $129,500 to $174,000. (Fact: It would take 81,690 hours, or more than nine years, for a worker at $2.13 an hour to match what a member of Congress makes in a year.)

Since the last minimum wage increase in 2009, efforts to raise minimum wages for regular and tipped workers have not really gotten anywhere until Thursday, when President Obama signed an executive order that mirrored the Harkin-Miller “fair minimum wage” bill. The order raised the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract employees and, like the Harkin-Miller bill, raises the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the minimum wage. That raises the base wage that employers must pay tipped employees to $4.90 an hour, which increases by 95 cents a year until it reaches at least 70 percent of minimum wage.

While a small victory, there are still millions of Americans who are not getting a fair wage for their work. There are several ways that you can support tipped workers in their fight to have a fairer wage.

Are you willing to pay a dime more per meal to feed your servers? Then sign this Restaurant Opportunities Centers United petition supporting the Harkin-Miller bill. Do you want to support restaurants that provide support for their workers? While by no means a comprehensive list, ROC United has put together “The Diners’ Guide to Ethical Eating” that tries to catalogue the restaurants in big cities that support their employees by paying at least $5 an hour for tipped employees, $9 an hour for non-tipped workers, paid sick days, and internal promotion.

Also, if you haven’t already, sign the Campaign for America’s Future petition calling on Congress to support the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would institute the $10.10 minimum wage.

Today is also a day of action to highlight the tipped worker minimum wage in Washington, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit and Miami. To learn more about any of these actions, check out the ROC’s event page.

They say you can learn a lot about a person based on how they treat the wait staff. In too many restaurants, the wait staff gets demeaning wages and demeaning treatment. They work full time, but too often are stuck below the poverty line. If they are mistreated by their supervisors, they have no place like a union to turn. It’s not a romantic place to be, and that’s why these workers need us to show them some love and help them fight for a fair wage.

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