Tipped Workers Score A Victory In New York In Fight For Better Pay

Isaiah J. Poole

Tipped workers in New York state have won a major victory, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Hospitality Wage Board announce that their minimum wage, which had been frozen at $5 an hour, will be increased to $7.50 an hour starting December 31.

This order follows years of protest and campaigning by low-wage workers throughout the state, who have not seen an increase in the tipped wage since 2011.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the thousands of New York women who have been demanding a more just and hospitable work environment in one of the fastest growing and largest economic sectors in the country – the restaurant industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, one of the organizations at the forefront of the mobilization effort. (Jayaraman received the 2014 Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award from the Campaign for America’s Future.)

This increase will affect workers in restaurants, hotels and in occupations where workers are dependent on tips for a portion of their income.

The new tipped wage will still be below the $9 minimum wage for untipped workers that is scheduled to go into effect on December 31. (The state’s minimum wage today is $8.75.) And Jayaraman says she is going to keep pressing toward the workers’ ultimate goal, which is to eliminate the tipped minimum wage entirely and move toward “one fair wage.”

Cuomo has endorsed the wage board’s recommendation that the tipped wage be eliminated entirely. Seven states plus Guam have done away with the tipped minimum wage for most, if not all, workers. The biggest of these is California. (Montana has an exception for some small businesses.)

Ondre Johnson, a ROC-NY restaurant-worker member and attendee at today’s announcement, issued a statement that put today’s announcement in perspective. “Relying largely on tips not only affects my dignity but also interferes with my service to customers,” she wrote. “I have to fight for tips and to get tables. Tips vary from day to day and there are months in a year, especially during the winter-time, where there is no work available at all. And I’ve seen my female co-workers tolerate customers grabbing their legs, withholding tips till they get a server’s phone number, and worse in order to not ruin a tip.”

At least for now, the coming raise “will help me to have a decent life by giving me fair compensation for my hard work,” she wrote. But for her and millions of other workers, the struggle for fair pay and dignity is by no means over.

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